When Facebook announced bots last year, within 15 seconds of experimentation, what has for 6 months been widely touted as the replacement for apps, an entire new way to interface with the internet, fast became frustrating and embarrassing. If this is the future, it was a bit crap.
We may think that emojis are dumbing down our language, but it’s speaking to the Siri or Amazon Echo that offers the greatest threat. We can no longer talk in a natural way, we can’t venture from a preset path, even asking device to repeat what they said spins them out of control.
And for a generation of people who’ve grown up tapping, searching, clicking, do we really want to go back to conversations? If I don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone, if texting is the way to connect with my best friends, why am I supposed to be talking to a machine. Isn’t conversational commerce the old world of opening our mouth and engaging, the better the Echo becomes the more it feels like a landline. If one can get a date with a nonchalant swipe, why do I need to talk to computer?
Technology is morphing expectations and assumptions. It’s all offering so much promise, but what’s new moves more quickly from magical to remarkable to wonderful to disappointing. The difference between best in class experiences grows ever greater by the moment. We’ve the sheer joy of the new EasyJet App offering us boarding information in real time, notifications to guide us through the airport. While Virgin America cancels our flight and doesn’t appear able to tell us. We’ve Hertz’s beyond awful digital experience which we can now compare with the wonder of the new Avis Now app, that allows us to upgrade within seconds with a mere swipe- saving the 20 mins of frantic keystrokes and nonsensical price quotes that Hertz involves.
Technology is amazing but very oddly distributed.
As I sit watching the my brand new TV, the best screen I’ve ever seen, let alone owned, 75 inches of 8 million pixels are not enough to distract me from a painful realization, it’s just not working out.
I sit there with 3 different painfully cheap, totally un-designed remote controls, navigating the content I want to watch by via several functionally similar large black set top boxes, not the show I want to watch. I force myself to remember the perfect sequence of 9 nonsensical button presses I need to make to watch Jon Oliver Tonight. A Kafkaesque taxonomy of indeterminate logic.
This is 2017, this is life in interim between two paradigms, the pre-digital age where life was simple and the post digital age where we’ve made sense of it all.
Every transformation feels like this. Yet most industries lie at different places on the adoption curve. From most to least transformed we have the examples of Music, News and TV.
Music has come out of the other side.
In music when MP3’s came out, fierce battles between DRM software, Napster, Music Shops meant that music catalogues were spread haphazardly between both physical format and warring entities. It took incredible forces, massive battles, legal cases and new business models for the dust to settle on what feels like a new era that works better for consumers that it does for musicians. The current music environment is a dream for a consumer. Pick any song, on any device, in any country, and it’s streamed to you within seconds. It’s remarkable.
News is at the latter stages.
Newspapers first refused to place content online, then only hosted archives or shorter pieces, before we see todays environment of paywalls, micropayments, endless advertising and the contrary force of adblocking. The structural forces are growing. Facebook and Twitter seek to become the aggregation and discovery layer for content, perhaps we can start paying for news with money and not attention. We’ are not there, it has to get worse before it gets better, but I believe whether it’s Blendle, Amazon pay, Facebook credits, Blockchain technology or operator billing, we will find a way.
TV can only get better.
Whether I watch TV over the air, over the internet, from my DVR, Timeshifted, via SVOD or VOD is of huge importance to providers but no importance to me. We’re in an age where the BBC can’t let their content be view overseas because of rights issues, where Daily Show segments are allowed only up to an arbitrary length on YouTube. Twitter is broadcasting the NFL live, Facebook serves 8Bn video views a day, the disruption is coming. It’s going to be massive, change everything and make a lot of people incredible money. The tension is palpable.
If I could offer companies one tip for the future it would be to understand that technology is putting consumers in control. That simplicity is what wins every battle. From Amazon to Uber, Instagram to Venmo, what wins is breaking through an underserved market and unleashing new technology to simplify.
We’re at a time where the hardware and software are impressive but the systems don’t work, my Amazon Echo won’t play nicely with either my Sonos system, nothing works with my Zuli plugs. Turning on a light takes 7 taps. If a company can make it just work then huge sums of money can be made.
We’ve got endless battles for every interface, on 50% of buses in the UK I can only use cash and no cards, on the remaining 50% I can only use cards and no cash.
Retailers in the USA may accept Apple pay, but for purchases over a random amount the uniqueness of my fingerprint to a dew microns is considered less secure than a nonsensical, illegible scribble on a piece of paper. Some retailers need chip and pin, some a chip, some a swipe, some a swipe and sign, it’s random beyond belief.
Starwood allow me to open hotel doors with an Apple Watch, but then equip their rooms with iPhone docs only for those with an iPhone 4 or older.
Right now, life has never felt more complex, more messy, or more disjointed. It’s systems, protocols, and platforms in their early stages. It’s wiring that doesn’t connect, least of all with our needs. We talk endlessly about the internet of things, but we’re not there yet. At some point everything should connect and just work, but before then, we’re stuck between the dumb and the smart. It’s the very worst times — the interim of things.