Thursday, July 28, 2016

Invisible Interaction, Zero UI and Our Screenless Future

In the not too distant future, we’ll look back at computers with screens, keyboards and mice and think it all looks quite antiquated. We’ll chuckle as we recall how we used to have to tap, click and type our way through a website’s navigation to find what we’re looking for.

The screenless – and keyboardless and mouseless – future is upon us. AIMA’s inaugural Innovation event was hosted at Nebo, where speakers from IBM, IHG, and AgVoice showed us the cutting edge technologies they’re using to engage customers and create the future.

You Have a Voice – Use It

It’s easy to forget that the mobile devices we’re all checking 46 times a day are actually phones, because we often choose to use every capability of these devices other than to actually place a call. In fact, these devices have made it so easy to get what we need that we often avoid speaking to other humans. But despite our increasingly call-shy culture, the fact remains that many of us will gladly talk to a device.

Chris Lamb, Manager of Mobile Products for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), spoke about a recent test of Amazon’s Echo device (with Alexa Voice Service built in) that was run in selected Crowne Plaza hotels. Guests could verbally ask Alexa where the closest pizza place was, what time the hotel gym opened, or if their flight home was running late. No screen, keyboard or mouse needed.


About half of hotel guests interacted with Alexa (nearly as many as turned on the TV). On average, there were just over 13 interactions per person, with playing music being the most popular request, followed by questions about the weather.

Voice-activated devices can be just as beneficial for business audiences as consumers. John Swansey, Chief Design Officer of AgVoice, demonstrated his company’s technology, which is aimed at the agricultural industry. Agricultural inspectors physically visit fields to inspect crops, observing and recording a checklist of items to ensure food safety and optimize yields. It can be a real challenge for an inspector to input data into a mobile device while using her hands to inspect plants in a hot, dusty environment with glare from the sun on her device’s screen.


The solution? Use voice instead. AgVoice’s system prompts the user, then records the inspector’s response (such as the presence of pests, the growth progress of fruit and vegetables, etc.), tags the data with a time stamp and geo-location, then uploads it to a secure cloud for transcription and automated report creation. This frees the inspector from cumbersome paperwork, and keeps her mobile and efficient. While agriculture is the largest industry in Georgia, this approach has potential to be used in other B2B applications, including construction, manufacturing, transportation and more.

Wearing It Well

Another way to capture data and interact with technology and services is through wearables, as anyone with a fitness tracking device or Apple Watch can attest. Sean Wood, Associate Partner for IBM Interactive Experience (iX), ran through several examples of “zero UI” (screenless) work his company had created for clients.

IBM iX refashioned banking for the wearable world by partnering with Citibank to create the first financial app for the Apple watch. In Asian markets, Citi is using voice biometrics so that customers can speak their name instead of entering their password on a screen to access their account.


Gesture Control

Sean also talked about a project for Jaguar. Since building and filling a Jaguar showroom is expensive, IBM iX created a kiosk that brought a virtual showroom to the customer. By using hand gestures, the prospective buyer could lift the hood, open the car door, change the color of the paint, and more.


At the event last week, we set up stations where attendees could try out fun tech gadgets in line with the evening’s theme. A Leap Motion sensor allowed guests to simply use their hands to play games – no controller of any type needed. A Myo armband let attendees fly a virtual plane by moving their arm.


Where We Are Now Vs. Where We Want to Be

We are clearly in the infancy of a new era of voice commands, wearables and gesture control devices. As exciting as it all is, we’re not quite there yet. Anyone who has tried to use Siri will probably agree. Chris said that if hotel guests said “Alexa, tell me about the Lobby Bar” instead of using the trigger phrase “Alexa, ask Crowne Plaza to tell me about the Lobby Bar,” Alexa would find a bar called “The Lobby Bar” – which happened to be in a Marriott three miles away. You can imagine that this didn’t go over well.

John mentioned that we tend to hit cognitive overload more quickly with audio than visual input. That is, think of a typical CNN news screen with banners scrolling across the bottom and images in a corner or two. We can mentally process these simultaneous information streams by focusing selectively. But with voices, it’s difficult to concentrate on more than one audio stream at a time. And there can be awkwardness in the turn-taking with voice-interaction systems – whose turn is it to speak now?

So what is the big picture here? What’s the vision of the future we should be looking forward to? It’s one of invisible interaction. Where a person doesn’t need a computer, a phone, a keyboard, a mouse. Where they don’t have to know how to find what they’re looking for and tap, click and type to get there. Where technology and analytics have advanced to know what a customer wants in advance, and quickly and efficiently deliver it right to them.

Brands and marketers have a huge opportunity to create new and engaging experiences for their customers, and to leverage a competitive advantage to attract new prospects. We can increasingly be contextually relevant, delivering the right product or service at the right time and place for our customers.

Still, as Sean said, “The last best experience anyone has becomes their expectation for every experience from then on.” What provides a “wow factor” today will be “business as usual” tomorrow. Brands shouldn’t wait to dive in and start exploring these alternate ways of interacting with technology.

Here’s a brief recap video of what you missed!