Welcome to the Future Marty!

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Well since my blog has “Hoverboards” in the title I think it is only fitting I publish a post today which is of course that fateful day Marty McFly arrived in the future with Doc Brown in Back to the Future Part II.

As we are now officially in the future I have compiled a list of my favourite new tech developments for your perusal. There have been some staggering leaps forward in the tech world in the last few years let alone the last thirty and I can’t wait to see where these ideas go next.

Self Driving Cars

For a long time I have felt that it is bizarre how accepting we are of people being involved in car accidents. I think what Google, Tesla and now the wider car industry (and it is now rumoured Apple) are doing in this space is incredibly exciting and one that will have huge ramifications once vehicles that can drive themselves are introduced properly to the mainstream. Add in Uber and other similar tech companies and within 10 years we could see people’s attitudes to cars radically change. Why own a car when you could just tell your watch or phone where you need to go, when then signals a car nearby to take you to your destination for less than a bus fare or train ticket? All these vehicles would be able to talk to each other as well so no more traffic jams and delays on the roads. Once people are convinced of their safety you would also be able to spend extra time with friends, family or colleagues, watch a film or get some sleep. Sounds like paradise to me!

Here are some of my favourite videos highlighting this new tech.

Tesla’s lateset software update allows for a new kind of cruise control:

Imagine what self driving cars could do for all kinds of people:

It’s not just cars:

Perhaps Mercedes vision of the future is a bit too clean…but I kind of like it:

AR & VR

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality seem like they are at a point to finally hit the mainstream and make a huge impact on everyday life. From what Facebook are doing with Oculus to the incredible Magic Leap and Microsoft HoloLens demos it really does seem like these will usher in a major shift in computing and entertainment.

The promise of Oculus and Magic Leap in particular excite me. The latest demos that both have shown off and the buzz coming from silicon valley around them really gives the sense that something big is coming. It isn’t only video games either but a huge range of entertainment areas are being investigated as well as some great educational innovations.

I am a big fan as well of how Google are attempting to bring Virtual Reality costs down with project Cardboard.

Magic Leap’s latest demo:

Oculus new controller developments demo:

Google cardboard:

AI Personal Assistants

Now perhaps this one doesn’t sound as exciting as the first two, but the fact that many of you already have simple versions of these in your pocket shows the impact they have already have and will have soon. You’ll likely have heard of Apple’s Siri and also Google Now but then there is also the incredible sounding version from Facebook known as ‘M’.

All three of these collect data from activity on your phone and the other touch points they have on you around the Internet and actively attempt to help better organise your life by presenting you with contextual information. Right now Siri and Google Now are only really impressing at odd moments, for example telling you how long it will take you to get home from work, and this is only scratching the surface of what they can and will be able to do.

Facebook’s M seems to take this another step by convincingly having a human like conversation with you. Go to this Buzzfeed article to read more on this.

These AI will not just live on your phone but also your watch or smart clothing, your home appliances and work computer, helping you go about your every day. They’ll also be able to keep an eye on your health and alert you of any issues. We’re already seeing wearable devices providing important health care information, imagine what an AI enabled version could do?

There is definitely an element of creepiness that will need to be overcome. This will likely come down to how information is presented and how our devices act.

Project Soli

This is a difficult one to describe so I’ll just place this here:

What an incredible use of radar to create a personal experience. Hope to see this used in devices soon.

And that’s it! All my favourite new pieces of technology. There is of course a lot more like Hyperloop, 3D printing, drones etc etc but the above are absolutely my top four picks. I hope you enjoyed the read!

One last and very recent development…who could resist self lacing shoes: http://news.nike.com/news/nike-mag-2015

Happy back to the Future day!

BTTF_Day

Who needs apps?

Moving towards a context driven and more user friendly mobile world.

iPhone iOS 9

Siri – Proactive Assistant in iOS 9 organises data for the user

After wearing the Apple Watch for a month, watching both the Google I/O and Apple WWDC conferences I think it is clearer than ever that we are moving away from what could be called a traditional mobile app interface to a newsfeed style one and this is a natural evolution for mobile device UI design.

Paul Adams has written far more eloquently and in depth about this than I, you can read his post on the Intercom blog here. (Seriously good read).

Here is my home screen.

iOS_1

 

Here is the second page on my home screen.

iOS_2

 

It is a bit of a mess. Now granted I know I have more apps than most but this multi app interface is not uncommon and is certainly not as user friendly as it once was. When Apple introduced the iPhone it was a revolution in mobile UI thanks to the touch screen input and app layout, but now it is beginning to feel tired, cumbersome and confusing no matter how pretty the tech companies try and make it. I have myself and witnessed others lose apps within custom folders just like when you put something aside for safe keeping and then can never remember where that was…! Frustrating when you are looking for that one piece of information.

We’ve been trained to download apps, whether free or paid for, and to keep downloading apps even if we already have an app that does the job of the new app. Apps apps apps! What we really want is a certain piece of functionality or data presented to us as soon as we pick up and look at the device. Creating a frictionless tech experience for the user is always on the minds of the engineers as clearly visible at both I/O and WWDC this year. I’d love to be out for a walk, look at my phone and see instantly information about my surroundings and presented with apps that I may want to use in that moment based on what the device knows about me.

The Apple Watch has certainly begun to alter my expectations. I now expect my phone to switch on when I look at it, clicking a button or tapping the screen to unlock it now feels like an unnecessary step. I don’t want to see lots of apps on the screen, just bite sized pieces of relevant information (glances have become more useful than I initially anticipated), and finally I’d love my device to do certain pieces of activity behind the scenes with little to no input from me. The activity tracking in watchOS for the fitness minded is truly fantastic. I am looking forward to playing with Pebble’s new Time UI as I think that could be a real reflection of things to come and I am not surprised to see Apple introduce a similar experience in watchOS 2 with Time Travel.

Now On Tap is able to find relevant data from within natural language

Now On Tap is able to find relevant data from within natural language and understand the context

Both Google Now on Tap and Apple’s Siri Proactive Assistant are definitely drives to this exciting new mobile future. I (sadly) don’t think we’ll see a drastic UI change any time soon, this feed of information similar to the Facebook Newsfeed will likely stay hidden behind a swipe to the notifications stream for I believe at least the next two to three iterations, perhaps we’ll see more use of the lock-screen however.

In the long run I think this could be the big threat to Facebook and explains why they have made so many moves to try and create the elusive Facebook phone. If I can just look at my phone and get presented with information that I want at that moment, including news and updates from friends, then why would I open a social networking app? But then again why will I be looking at my phone when I’ll be embedded in a new VR driven future?

Now I should clarify as I wrap up this post I’m not really talking about removing the downloading of apps (people will always want to and should customise their mobile experience) but more a change to the UI and the idea of using apps in the way that we currently do. There will always be a future for having to open fully fledged applications, think games or enterprise based activities, but the current experience of opening and closing and opening and closing and opening (you get the idea) is one that I believe will go away in the not too distant future.

If you want some further reading try the following:

Wired.com – It’s Official: Everyone Has The Same Plan For Tech’s Future

Quartz – The future of iOS: apps you can enjoy without ever opening them

20 Kids And A Scottish Play

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Hubble…bubble…

Well that was different.

For those of you who read my sparingly updated blog and are unaware of the course I am currently on (about 50% of the two of you) a quick bit of background. This week I started on the great Squared course. It’s set up by the kind folks of Google in partnership with Impact and the IPA with the intention to give people who work in digital marketing incredibly valuable experience over 6 weeks in all kinds of areas. Check out this video for a quick idea of what I am doing:

Back to my curious blog title, I wanted to share this experience as it is so far removed from my everyday.

One of our tasks this week was in a small team come up with a compelling, 1 hour 30 minute fun and interactive workshop for a class of 20 kids aged 8-9 years old and introduce them to Macb…ahem…The Scottish Play. It’s safe to say this is outside of my normal comfort zone, which in the spirit of the course and what we are trying to achieve is a great thing. The point of the task was to gain some insights from the children about their knowledge around Shakespeare and what they thought about performing in plays on stage for our client Shakespeare Schools Festival.

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Facebook Home

Have Facebook created the future of mobile phone software or just a good looking app?

Let me just start off by saying how great I think Facebook Home looks. Ever since the Facebook Camera app and more recently with the News Feed redesign Facebook have shown a great new mobile design ethic. Moving away from the clunky, out dated layout that has plagued the desktop version of Facebook (and for a long time the mobile app) towards a simple and elegant look is a strong move for the team. Home amplifies this on mobile and truly shows that they are now firmly a mobile first technology company… in theory. They of course do a lot more behind the scenes. I do think however that there are some issues that I will outline further down.

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Interesting New Behaviour

social keyboard

It might just be me, but I have noticed lately that I keep making a similar mistake or rather, I keep expecting to be able to do something.

Over the last few months I have started typing friends names into the Chrome address bar when I have wanted to see an online profile of theirs or send them a message. This is something I know doesn’t work and as a techy person I am surprised that I keep making that mistake. It usually happens if I am slightly tired or “in the zone” surfing the web and doing work, I’ll think of someone and immediately start typing the first few letters of their name into the address bar. It is a select group of people (Paul Adams would call them my close ties) who I communicate with often and want to be able to share something with them as quickly as possible.

Am I doing something abnormal and just being weird (a distinct possibility) or is this something we can expect to be able to do in the future? I imagine that with Google+ and the Chrome OS this could well be a function that is added into the Chrome browser and also adds weight to a Facebook browser argument. What I would ideally like is to have Facebook, Twitter etc plugged into my browser and be able to pull up all the different ways to contact my friends and family. This also highlights just how much time I spend in the browser now compared to other applications on my laptop.

Of course this is only really a PC browser issue as I have not found myself doing this on any mobile browsers which is probably due to the silo type behaviour that occurs when using mobile apps. As in you are concentrating on one specific task rather than doing true multi-tasking.

So yeah there you are. Is it just me? Would you like to see this type of functionality?

Time to Read Those Terms of Service

Image via Wall Street Journal

Today a lot of people, understandably, got upset over the updated Instagram Terms of Service. Specifically this section (Rights point 2 & 3):

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Now, I believe this is in reference to a Sponsored Story or Promoted Post/Tweet/Trend style advert that will sit within the photo based social network. This would fit with its parent company’s current style of advertising. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Instagram images appearing on the side of buses, in TV, YouTube or banner ads across the web…however it is certainly open enough to allow that. Perhaps this is intended to allow for a fire hose type deal with brands and developers like the one that Twitter offers. I have seen Tweets used everywhere and I’m pretty sure the Tweeters weren’t notified, a fact perhaps more people need to think about (and when you read the Twitter ToS below you will realise just how similar they are).

This isn’t really the point though. People are upset because they love Instagram, it was the social network that allowed them to express themselves (whether artistically or not) through images and wasn’t one of the big tech corporations who people have recently been finding it harder to trust. Now with this change in the ToS (that will come into affect on January 16th 2013) the ball has dropped that now Instagram is truly part of Facebook and is mixing it up with the likes of Twitter etc.

On a further note Instagram still makes it clear that you own your content.

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