Disclaimer: These thoughts do NOT represent strategy or plans by my team or company. They are just that… thoughts.
The way we consume information and services has transformed over the last few years. Small, specialized applications on smartphones and tablets have displaced the Web browser as our primary window into the digital world. Could the proliferation of smarter, smaller, wearable devices bring yet-another similar transformation?
This post argues that we are going to witness a convergence of user experiences. Many specialized applications will disappear. A small number of user experiences (some of them in the form of personal digital assistants) will provide access to the world’s knowledge and surface/incorporate functionality from a variety of services across the Internet.
Is the Web Dead?
I recently read “Flurry Five-Year Report: It’s an App World. The Web Just Lives in It” over on the Flurry Blog. The post reminded me of a point I made during my recent talk at QCon London related to the move away from many, specialized applications in favor of few unified experiences.
The nice folks over at Flurry Analytics disagree with the assertion that “The Web is Dead”. In a previous report, they highlighted the fact that we spend more time inside apps rather than the Web. In this latest post, however, they argue that the Web is evolving to appear as a collections of apps. They also correctly point out that a lot of Web content is consumed from within other apps, such as Facebook.
Does this mean the web is dead? We don’t believe so. On the contrary, we believe that the web will change and adapt to the reality of smartphones and tablets. Websites will look and behave more like apps. Websites will be optimized for user experience first and search engine optimization second. This supports the trend of mobile first and web second, which brings both mobile app and user experience design to the mobile web.
(“Flurry Five-Year Report: It’s an App World. The Web Just Lives in It”)
Interestingly, Facebook today announced “Facebook Home”. They are trying to make a single experience the focus. They are trying to deprioritize the use of other applications. This aligns very much with the premise of this post.
So, is the consumption of Web content from within an app still “The Web” or do we need to be explicitly using a Web browser? I argue that such semantics are unimportant and that the user experience is really all that matters.
The Applification of our Digital World
We are spending much more time in front of applications on smart devices than the Web. It’s a trend that emerged due to the popularity of smartphones and tablets. Within the next few years, the usage of such devices (and the applications they host) will overtake the amount of time we spend in front of TVs, the first time in decades that TV is challenged.
There is an application for every single task that we want to perform. Apple famously used the tagline in their ads: “there is an app for that”.
The number of available wearable devices is increasing at a great rate. There is a plethora of devices producing/tracking health, well-being, and exercise data. Google is getting ready to mass-produce Google Glasses. The current demos are already showing how Google Now is the main focus of the user experience, helping users accomplish a variety of tasks and accessing information that would normally require different applications.
There are rumors of Apple, Google, LG, and Samsung releasing watches or bracelets. In most likelihood, a watch or a bracelet will be limited in terms of the application experiences they can directly host. However, when paired with a more powerful device such a phone, a wearable device can become the access points to all of the phone’s functionality. It makes sense for personal digital assistants such as Google Now and Siri to be the gateways to all knowledge and services that are available through the phone.
Operating Systems – Irrelevant?
The applification of our digital world has resulted in a new era in user interface design. Operating systems are no longer at the center of our attention. The trend is for the OS to get out of the user’s way. The entire screen surface is dedicated to application-oriented user experiences.
It’s not uncommon to see the same user experience span multiple devices. In fact, Microsoft is promoting the consistency of user experience across devices (smartphones, tablets, desktop, TVs) as a feature.
Emergence of Digital Personal Assistants
In the same way the OS is getting out of our way, many specialized applications will also disappear (but not the services that they provide). There are going to be few entry points to the world’s knowledge and services, some of them powered by personal digital assistants. In many cases, we won’t even need to see a screen. Natural User Interfaces (speech, touch, gestures, thought) will be the norm for interacting with “intelligent” software such personal digital assistants. Neither OS nor applications would be the center of our attention.
Recently, Chevrolet started advertising their Sonic car with Siri integration, focusing on the “eyes” free interaction. There is no special technology other than a Bluetooth connection to an iPhone. However, the focus of the advert indicates to the changing perception on how we should expect to consume information, to complete tasks, and to interact with technology.
I suggest that the move away from the many specialized applications in favor of few, “smart” user experiences has to happen in an age where smart devices hide inside our every-day environment. Consider these:
- In the morning, as we get in front of the bathroom’s mirror, we won’t need to start an application in order to get the day’s overview (e.g. appointments, weather, news, tasks, etc.). Our digital assistant will anticipate our interest and will offer the information.
- In the living room, we will interact with our agent (very likely through the TV), not with specific applications. We will ask our digital assistant to make reservations for dinner, to contact a friend via Skype, to find a show that we like.
- In the (self-driving) car, we won’t have to navigate through applications in order to accomplish tasks. Using speech we will be able to control aspects of our trip experience (e.g. music, temperature, communications, media for the kids at the back, etc.). Our assistant will surface notifications to us.
We are already witnessing examples of Apple and Google moving towards the integration of service functionality, in addition to surfacing information (e.g. movie tickets using Siri or sport tickets using Google Now, even if they direct to application-specific experiences at the moment).
The digital world is evolving extremely fast. The transition from a PC-oriented world to a smart device one took only few years. Applications became the focus of our attention. I believe we are going to witness another transformation (in business and technology strategies) very soon. It’s really fun to be part of all these changes!
(Thanks to Mike Calcagno for his feedback in an earlier version of the above)
(Featured photo from the Office Future Productivity Vision video)