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User Experience

The Internet of (Disconnected) Things

March 26, 2015

Want to experience connected Zen? Grab a Lyft, the ride sharing service fueled by digital transactions.

The first time you Lyft, you will encounter a panic moment when leaving the car. You’ll ask yourself “shouldn’t I be paying?” and “how do I tip?” What you don’t realize is you have already. With Lyft, a simple tap on your screen hails your ride and sets off an automated chain of events that takes care of everything for you. This new model frees us from old taxicab conventions, awkward cash exchanges and processing fees that leave most cab rides feeling, well, meh.

When will other experiences achieve this feeling of awesomeness? Is Apple Pay going to revolutionize retail? Or will swiping your arm to pay at the register prove to be awkward and alienating? Are wearables just a transitory phase? Are these devices destined to hold us over until we get what we really want, whether that be biometric pay or some other futuristic option that’s still decades out?

This is just a sampling of the many conversations that were circling around the South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive conference halls last week. We are experiencing a modern-day Gold Rush, where crowdfunded startups and big corporate players are developing our futures with technology. Everyone’s chasing the big trends. The only thing that is clear is near-future innovations will be just as messy and intertwined as the SxSW experience.

One of the monster categories that has emerged from this melting pot is connected devices. Wearables are the sexy poster children for this movement, but plenty of others are joining the party including sensor-embedded door locks and flower pots. While these devices continue to gain popularity among entrepreneurs and developers, the mainstream public is still having a tough time finding a place for them in their daily lives. I feel this disconnect stems from a complex cocktail of many things hampering everyday user experience.

From a technology standpoint, these devices are limited by their guts. If your device needs a screen, you’ll need a bulky battery. Bulky batteries create unfortunate, blocky form factors. Bulky batteries mean daily charging. Daily charging eliminates constant activity tracking. If you ditch the screen, you’ll reduce component footprint and open up the design to cool form factors. But then do you sacrifice usefulness? This is just a sampling of the common connected device limitations.

True disruption will happen when experiences become a seamless, virtually invisible orchestration between connected objects and user behaviors.

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