Interactions Design Will Enable New Social and Cultural Behavior. How Do You Research These Emerging Behaviors and Their Implications?

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Back from London and a very productive week. Many are still sadden by the loss of Steve Jobs. I quote Ginsberg: “I saw the best minds of my generation… angelheaded hipster raging or the ancient heavenly connection, in the machinery of night…”. The world misses Steve Jobs.

Apple said he had been “the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives” and had made the world “immeasurably better”.VC and ex-Apple executive Jean Louis Gassee – who Jobs recruited to Apple – said that Jobs should have ‘seven statues’ built for him – ‘One for the Apple II, one for the Mac, one for Pixar, one for coming back and reviving Apple and the Mac, one for the iPod and iTunes, one for the Apple Stores and one for the iPhone.

This picture of Steve was taken in an emotional moment knowing this was his last keynote.

Everyone is obsessed with Apple and how to disrupt the master disrupter, but what everyone is doing is either copying each other or try to make small changes to Apple’s designs without the power of the Apple brand/user experience and the powerful Apple ecosystems behind them. Let’s say if your army has the same uniform, equipment and the same Hummers as the US military doesn’t mean you can compete with the powerful military intelligence system linking everything. Apple is a system with central command and control with highly sophisticated logistics system and deep R&D budgets. It is truly a textbook example of sustainable competitive advantage.

Most companies got it wrong when they believe 1/They think Apple is only about clean design and nice features 2/They think what they do is easily replicable 3/They think people are willing to save some money buying a non-Apple substitutes. Look around how many MP3s out there and how cheap they are, anyone buying them? The same can be said about tablets.

We’ve spent a lot of time on researching the future of ‘devices’ or ‘personal technology’. It will be the single largest growth opportunity for the coming 10-15 years and will eventually be bigger than the PC business. It is the next game. I am not talking about mobile phones, smart phones or tablets. I am talking about a convergence of these portable devices that utilizing haptics, gestures, facial, biophysical, voice, movement or any combinations that could create novel ways of interacting with a devices or entertainment appliances.

There is simply no way to predict what would become the dominant interactions paradigm of the future and which one will prevail and which one is transitional. Is multi-touch transitional or something will come and leapfrog this interaction paradigm?

Apple is milking everything ‘multi-touchables.’ One of the latest idea is the Apple’s Magic Mouse may include multi-touch display. Earlier this year Apple filed a patent application on a multi-touch mouse that can display information and allow users to input directly from the mouse such a number keypad. The screen would then change to a different functionality for each application when they’re switched between active and non-active and depending on whether you’re play games or chatting with friends. I think the next one would be a multi-touch Macbook cover that let you do things without opening the laptop. That would be a nice crossover to bring some tablet functions to a laptop. If I want to play music with my Macbook I may not need to open it.

And Apple is getting close to offering cloud-based movie streaming,working with Hollywood studios to get movies streaming through iTunes. LA Times this week said that Apple was hoping to get that service off the ground by the end of this year, or early next year. Apple now streams TV shows and movie to devices like the Apple TV, but Apple TV has small penetration. This would add that feature to purchased content, and widen the range of devices that could stream and most importantly iPads.

Functionality available through the input device is something worth exploring. When we do research work on how devices (or tools) from both an anthropological and design perspectives evolve and how they shape our everyday interactions, we see emerging complex cultural artifacts that connect different kinds of social and cultural practices.

The increasing emerging interactions and sociability makes the behavior hard to research using conventional research approach. The three main central affordances of the personal technologies for social actions are 1/the very personal nature of these devices (at least more so in the west) and getting more personal with increasing access to critical information and 2/ the idea of anytime anywhere always on, everyone and always connected 3/ the sensing and reacting capability of future devices. Like many I carry my Blackberries around in the office, at home and everywhere I go. Many of us are tied to our iPhone/iPad/Android phones/Blackberries and must carry a functioning smart phone at all times. For our research, we focus on how multi-touch can interact with geospatial information and on how other modalities can be combined to enrich the interaction with spatial differences. We have a lot of very interesting findings. I may share some here next week.

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