No Interface: thinking beyond the touchscreen
Most of us at Omnifi (the in-situ digital innovation agency I work for) come from a mobile background, and we often think of smartphones and screens as the default interface for communication and interaction between businesses and customers.
However, because we are now operating and innovating in the space between physical and digital, there is an increasing need to start thinking in terms of real-world and more natural interactions. We’ve been calling this approach ‘thinking beyond the touch-screen’, and I came across an interesting piece last week from trendwatching.com entitled ‘No Interface’ which inspired me to get some of these thoughts down ‘on paper’.
Heads Up vs Heads Down
“Engaging with a mobile phone screen can suck away all sorts of important sensorial information.”
Mobile has been revolutionary in many ways, but the interaction paradigm between humans and mobile content still has much in common with traditional paper media – i.e. you hold it in your hand and look down. The action of viewing a mobile screen is actually fairly unnatural. You only have to be behind someone looking at their phone on the street to realise how it takes away from the physical act of walking or noticing your surroundings. In fact engaging with a mobile phone screen can suck away all sorts of important sensorial information that you might want in a social or tactile environment like a shop or a sports venue. In fact, it’s quite common to talk about ‘heads-up’ vs ‘heads-down’ experiences in the context of digital stadium experiences.
The best interface may be no interface at all
Bricks-and-mortar retail environments also don’t lend themselves very naturally to a ‘heads-down’ experience. The value of being in a real-world environment is not just the immediate gratification of purchase, but also all the emotional and tactile interaction that shoppers can have with products, staff and the store environment. That is most probably diminished if shoppers are glued to their screens. The best interface in these environments (stores and leisure venues) may well be no interface at all.
Sensors and hands-free in-store digital
“In the future I expect shoppers will be recognised and guided without them ever having to put their hands in their pockets.”
A ‘no interface’ approach looks to sensors and communications mechanisms that don’t require the user to actively touch anything. Inputs like gesture and voice and more passive sensors like WiFi, beacons and facial recognition, mean that user input in stores can be much more ‘natural’ and effortless. In terms of communicating back to users; in-situ screens (shelf-edge and other embedded signage), wearables like smart-watches and glasses (still screens, but require less effort to view) and even more integrated communications like smart-signs (personalised store guide), smart-lights (that light your way) and data empowered staff (armed with your shopping history) could all drive ‘no interface’ digitally enhanced retail experiences. In the future I expect shoppers will be recognised and guided without them ever having to put their hands in their pockets.
Until they get to the till that is!*
*Assuming of course, that tills even exist by then.
By the way, the image above is the Moto Hint, a voice activated ear-bud that allows you to control your smartphone and receive feedback entirely via voice – i.e. completely hands free.
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