3 Drivers for the Next Decade; and a Look into 2020

Traditionally I look into the next year after the turn towards the new year. This year is a bit different for a lot of people as we are entering a new decade. So is at least the common feeling. What are the roaring twenties of the 21st century? It is the theme for a lot of thinkers (I like this one of Kara Swisher to name just one). However it remains interesting to have a peek into 2020 too and see how it will contribute to bigger changes.

But good to start with a look back to the last decade. Many is said, and I think there is not a discussion on what is the most changing development in tech, and also stretching beyond: the developing of the smart phone as center of everything. I think here it is not so much about features and sizes, but on how it changed the role of tech in our world. More than the introduction of the smart phone in its current form back in 2007 almost simultaneously by Apple and Android, the real breakthrough was the app-system that caters endless possibilities for makers to create new functions for the wearable technology, and the adding of the GPS made into a reality device, a link of our real life and digital life, and that is what turned out to be key. That was the driver for new transformational services, that the phone is now the hub of a huge knowledge graph the internet was already before and our real-life. And that can be linked to the impact of tech now in society, data ecosystem and the root for the current techlash.

In sketching developments in Internet of Things — one of my focus areas of the last decade for sure — I think that the phone is often too much seen as the IoT device in itself, and that this triggers uninteresting concepts where the object gets a remote control in the form of an app. That is however changing. The objects become more intelligent, more part of a product-service system with the phone only as connector to that system, and the first iteration to the edge-computing that became popular the last years. We only just now see the objects become more smart themselves, intelligence is becoming embedded in the objects, think AirPods as poster child. Keep this in mind for the look into the next decade.

So what really changed the last decade is the place of tech in our real-life. Computing was a tool used for specific functions, first word-processing and then with the first iteration of the world wide web as library and communication service. Now we have the possibility to create an app for everything we do. If it is navigating or taking pictures, that glass slab is the center of our personal universe. I don’t know if Steve Jobs had foreseen this when he introduced the iPhone as an integration of three functions: the phone, internet communication device and music player. The real power was the role of the phone as infrastructure for services.

We now see peak smart phone. At least in the form factor. A glass slab to interaction, with computational powerhouse and connectivity. It will be optimized, it will be foldable. It will in essence return to a single purpose device, the window to the system behind it. That system is becoming independent from the smart phone, a development started with the AirPods, HomePods, watches as intelligent touchpoints. Not limited as an Apple-centric development, Google is building a strong foundational infrastructure with services like Duplex and computational photography, and shifting towards more quality in the devices to stimulate different valuations of products that just features. The looks are becoming important.

This will continue, and I think a shift in the relation with the technology we use is key for the coming decade. AI is far away from artificial general intelligence (AGI), robots will not fully taking over humans, that will take more time, and more important, it makes no sense to strive for that. We will extend our human capabilities with technology on a deeper personal level. You can say that in the last decade the phone mainly made the services more intelligent facing towards we as users, in the coming decade the focus will be the human facing outwards. I think there are three drivers:

  1. Boosted humanity. Technology is extending human capabilities. From electric last mile mobility to power to reason. We see also how daily life is now monitored continuously and planned rigorously. This is a feeding ground for the urge of improving/boosting. Doing Bodytec gym, etc. Even developments in DNA sequencing is a form of boosting humans by making it able to create better medicine.
  2. Relations human-nonhumans. In the use of the technology we will not anymore see it as a tool, as a slave if you wish. We will build relations with the intelligent partners, value what they can achieve and respect how they bring a reflection to our own life choices. However the starting point will be boosting the human capabilities, the practice is one of mutual understanding.
  3. Living together with pal-tech. Follow through with this we will (later) not only have this attitude in working together as a relation, we will allow the tech as part of our human systems. First in cities. Cities of things with things as citizens, the research program at TU Delft we run is linked to this.

Describing the third driver feels as if the artificial life, the nonhuman fellow inhabitants could be taking over, a fear that is sometimes expressed in AI ethics. We need to start understanding what the roles are. The first step here is to lose the meme that tech is neutral. We are still the designers of the tech, although we see that tech will become a creative force here too. Like the Spotify design process where the AI is part of the design team initiating new ideas for products instead of being only the ingredient of the end product.

It will be a super interesting decade we will live. But we need to be aware of doing it right. Breaking the power of the big players as the possibilities of an implementation that does not stimulate but harm freedom of living together with the tech, what a system based on the surveillance capitalism creates. A public stack could work, based on open source governance. We need a similar system as the app-store did for mobile; a way to cater creators and makers to build the partnering technology. And based on more human-based values, not economic values. We want objects that live longer. As a necessity to become more sustainable. Without losing the options to update. Fashion that adepts, cars that update, etc. We like to keep our stuff up to date. Phones were fashion items but are now longer around. The inside remains changing.

Looking into one year ahead, we will see in devices that the phones do not change fundamentally. They become more basic in the outside and more intelligent in the inside. The intelligence will be opened up for developers even more, hopefully that is the step Apple can take in the next OS-stack. The AR glasses are not so important, or foldables. More interesting is what is happening in the integration of the intelligence in the infrastructure. The alliance of the big players for an open IoT stack is here a first sign; in 2020 more examples will be introduced, compare IKEA Tradfri. The big boom will be later as the infrastructure is more stable.

Same goes for mobility. As the mobility revolution in the beginning of the 20th century drove developments, the unbundling of physical functions (cars) and infrastructure (engines, software) with the acceleration of electric cars, but also bikes and last mile vehicles (boosted boards, scooters) will continue and yielding for next forms of mobility services in this century.

There is of course happening more than tech. A lot of politics, geo-political changes, risks of serious crashes in both US and China leading to new kinds of internal conflicts. Tech plays here a great role too however. Think only on the surveillance systems in China and the counter attacks by the a new kind of ad-hoc demonstrating.

So to wrap up; we shift from a decade of empowering products and services with computational capabilities towards empowering humans with boosting human capabilities on all levels. For that we will see a further shift from new gadget-like devices towards integrated infrastructures in all things we use. To begin in creating tech that we can modify and hack into our own pals. Where we will build a new type of relations, based on hopefully more human-driven economical systems. Let that be our new-decade resolution. Have a good 2020(s)!

Draw-select reality

Interesting new interaction paradigm seems to be emerging: draw-select reality. As Foursquare introduced the possibility to draw the area on the map for filtering places.

And now there is the new DJI Phantom 4 drone that makes it possible to drawselect a person to follow.

 

This is not only good news because the drone is really doing what drones should be doing: fly themselves. It is also an interesting interaction concept how it let you intuitively mark things in the real world to connect to functions in a digital space. Just like draw-selecting within Foursquare.  I can imagine this will be more and more a common way to interact as the tools we use gets more intelligent.

A new multimodal conversation language

In this interesting overview on the move to conversational commerce by Chris Messina he touches also an interesting aspect on the new conversational language that we will have with our services based on task-based command lines. The example how to type in commands in Slack conversations with the slash and how the new app Peach is using a sub-language to communicate all kind of special short-cut messaging. Agree with Chris that we will learn in this first phase towards the conversational interactions to have these kind of dialogues.

In my trends-for-2016 post I shared the expectation that we will start to get used to have a dialogue with the products we use, and have more tangible interactions at the same time. Let’s elaborate a bit on that. These conversations will be a possible format to make an interoperability between the different services and products we use. We had the short hype of intelligent agents at the end of the last century, it was to early then and technical not ready missing the big data for instance. It will happen now. And the special behaviour will be the connecting of the different services. That goes two ways.

We will have the different services connected thru our own conversations, but we will also enhance our interactions with the services with more than one channel. Multimodal combining screen interactions with speaking, chats and physical experiences. As Chris mentioned the benefit of the knowledge of a person in a chatroom to verify payments, so is adding the physical contact points with the pure digital ones. That is the context for the learning dialogue.

A really interesting development. With a challenge to design these conversations using rule-based principles and machine learning support, applying it to both digital and the physical interactions. With an open setup for people to create their own language.

 

2016; capitalizing on the platforms

As always I like to look forward to the new year. Starting with a look back at the predictions of last year. I have to say that I was pretty accurate last year. Check it yourself.

So to sum up I think the home will be the main playground of the digital developments in 2015, with the internet of daily life as silent revolution. Impacting some of our habits and devices we use. The move to private messaging communities will have big impact and next to that we could be really preparing for a new sensing communication language that will however fly later.

More than ever the first seeds were planted for the things to happen later, like in 2016. As the messaging as platform, a lot is said on that in 2015 and is happening big time in China. It will definitely execute in 2016.

The new platforms for our smart homes as silent revolution is also something that happened with a couple of players. Samsung got into the market with the acquisition of SmartThings, the new Apple TV as platform can be seen as a move into the home, Amazon Echo products, and of course NEST platform from Google. That one is the most interesting to watch. It is clear that Google is trying to enter the home to collect user data there. Nothing secret there anymore. The big question is what they will do with the data. Expect more products and services connected to the platform to generate data. Leveraging the platform as service to – for instance – advertisers will follow later (2017). I am very interested if Google will make some serious steps in making the new invisible design patterns for data driven real life products at the next I/O.

Apple is also always interesting to take as reference for predictions. Everyone predicting the future talks on Artificial Intelligence as the thing to go big in 2016. Apple will try to play an important role. The way they build in more helping functionality in iOS building on your data is paving the way for more serious AI driven services. We will also see the first tangible products that use the SDK for making the product smart. If the SDK is opened up of course to external use…
The same goes for haptics. I was right last year that the integration of haptics in Apple Watch is important but very basic. With the roll-out of 3D touch to the phone and laptop will continue this year. Only if there is a serious installed base we can expect to open up the possibilities of haptic to use for real functions instead of the limited possibilities now. Expect that with iOS10.

Twitter is in decline. Not falling yet in 2016 but if they do not find a new purpose it will be hard in the years after. It moved very rapidly to Instagram, and Snapchat.
Snapchat did grow strong in 2015 indeed, even more than expected. Will continue to do so and is more and more adopted with broader audiences. There will be more discussion on the business model of the service. A connection can be made with VR. 2015 was not yet the year for VR breakthrough but certainly the first steps are taken to have a bigger impact in 2016. Snapchat is showing how to augment real video with animations. It is acclaimed they storing the visual information of our faces as valuable data. VR concepts could very well leverage that. Expect some examples on that.

A lot more can be said on 2016 and beyond, but I keep it to this. The platforms created in 2015 will start to collect our behavioral data and will offering helpful services as tradeoff. We will start to get used to have a dialogue with the products we use, and have more tangible interactions at the same time.
I hope we will remain gaining more awareness on the systems we live in and the consequences our behavior has. Just using the P word without offering actionable tools is not useful. We will see new forms of design thinking on systems (like design for agency, meta design, playful), good signposts for some increased literacy in 2016.

Have a great 2016!

The end of the internet as we know it

We are approaching a new year and there will be a lot of predictions on what the coming year will bring. I expect I will do something like that too again.
But it is also interesting to think and wonder on the bigger changes, longer changes sometimes. This morning I read an interview with long time respected Bruce Sterling in a Dutch magazine that sparked me to think on the state of the internet. The role is shifting as it remains a source for the things we do, one of the most important ones still.

We growing however in an functional internet. The internet as a medium on it’s own will have less importance as people are moving their communication to other places. And media consumption shifts to services captured in app on the devices we wear close to us or use for entertainment activities. Mobile phones, wearables, smart screens, all information is captured in streams. The internet facilitates the connectivity and is the management platform.

The functional internet is also part of our physical world. The connected things are all about connective tangible interactions with our cloud services. The internet facilitates here a new type of things that become adaptive to the context and use, I wrote on that before. The internet has not a presence on its own here, it is the back-end of the functions we use.

The functional internet is also in the messaging platforms, the closed communication services we use more and more as replacement for interaction with our peers, but is also the new media platform for brands to communicate with consumers.

The shift to a proprietary internet where the closed services becoming bigger as the the open internet is not a new development, it has been discussed before with the grow of Facebook. We see now the change emerge on all levels of our lives and the things we do. The combination of the digitised physical experience and the messaging platforms will change the character of products we use.
Our perception of our self is linked to that. As the reality is already in place that software is eating our world – everything is becoming software, the follow up is that we are as humans becoming eaten by the software too as our digital and physical presences is melted together.

An simple example is how a daily vlogger like Casey Neistat are now living their lives as a movie, and do real life decoupage where reality and representation are mixed up.
In that sense we will also deal with the dangers, the data leaks and manipulations of our behaviour, by developing a new literacy that is focused on data agency.

So in the end is the functional internet something we will be embedding in our being.
The end of the internet as we know it is complete as we have absorbed the characteristics of the hyper connectivity in all we do and are.

Battle of the platforms part 2 is about the seams

A couple of years ago we discussed the battle of the platforms with big players dividing the pie on Internet. The big 4: Google, Apple, Facebook, with Amazon as outsider providing the ecosystem for making. An interesting aspect was (is) the proprietizing of the internet, the closed systems. This has only become more apparent in the way we use the internet for instance with the closed chat systems like Whatsapp.

With the internet of things is one of the lines of discussion always on standards. Can we create a new standard that has the same status as the internet itself has. That is now far from true, all kind of different alliances are defining communication standards for the specific data communication in IoT. In a blogpoast Martin Spindler shares some good thoughts. The article from Theo Priestley he mentions shows a matrix with the big players and the alliances.

It is interesting that in this overview the big four are not mentioned. That could very well be because the parties are more active on a manufacturing level than a servicelevel, it is all on the embedded layer. But maybe there is also a part that is overlooked. The big question Priestley also touches: do we really move to one standard that functions as a new internet in a world of connected things (life)? Fragmentation is a much more likely scenario. Proposition driven systems that create seams for interoperability. Services will work together if we choose to connect the APIs.

We will live in our own default ecosystem more and more, and connect services from others based on exchanges of data in the moment. Ephemeral data as Maciej Ceglowski describes. The real war of the platforms will move to the seams. The question is how the seams will be controlled. With new design challenges.

Invisible apps paving way for watch life

Product Hunt is an important trendwatcher for developments in digital services via the new apps that are becoming popular. Yesterday they marked ‘the invisible app’ as a clear new trend. Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt made a list that consists of embedded functionality like Katch that record Meerkat live streams to Youtube, Magic as a SMS Siri and bots like Blippybot finding GIFs for you, and Clara scheduling your appointments.

At the Hackbattle of The Next Web we saw also this happen in some of the most interesting concepts that were presented. This was mainly triggered by the use of one of the companies providing SMS and voice APIs: Nexmo.

I think it is an important trend too. Not new per se. We talk about bots as service for a longer time, but it will flourish with the introduction of the new generation smart watches and other wearables. I talked on the ‘Notifaction Model’ for the new apps that are build on the context and sensor driven notification layer as binder of the services. See the presentation below for instance.

 

We are just at te beginning of our automated and artificial intelligence driven service layer we will use for daytime tasks. These invisible apps are the first iteration with simple tasks, but will grow in much smarter enhancements that we will control via our wearable devices.