Augmentation without the cyborg

How would the digital experiences central to users’ lives change if they weren’t embodied in a touchscreen slate? Google’s Glass project provides an obvious answer by virtue of the fact it has been much in the news recently. The interest around smartwatches at Mobile World Congress might provide another clue.

Neither feel quite right though.

For anyone not living in the tech bubble, Google Glass carries an uncomfortable air of the cyborg. The watch examples I have seen at Mobile World Congress are just smaller, wrist-mounted versions of the same UIs we’ve had on smartphones for years.

Yet design agency Fjord has made wearables a major theme of its conversation here at MWC, with CEO Olof Schybergson commenting on the issue in the media. Speaking with the creative director of another large agency, he posed the question to me: “What if we are seeing the end of the smartphone here at MWC? What would personal computing look like outside that form?”

It is something we have been thinking about for a long time at MEX in Pathway #6 on Form, Pathway #9 on Sensation, Pathway #2 on Diffusion and Pathway #14 on Context.

This is not a question which will be answered today. Neither is it a question most users will know they are interested in having a different answer to until they are presented with something revolutionary. However, it is very much a question anyone serious about pushing the possibilities of digitally augmented life should be considering.

My feeling is that it will require the experimentation of those who can think beyond designing purely visual UIs and a realisation that the majority of digital interactions in users’ lives will become invisible over time. There is both the challenge of making that simple and the further opportunity of enriching the interactions which remain tangibly embodied.

Looking forward to exploring this further at the next MEX in London on 26th – 27th March.

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