YOU: INTERFACE - DEEPER INTEGRATION IS COMING, JUST FOR YOU
DEEPER INTEGRATION IS COMING, JUST FOR YOU
According to a new study from Whistleout, the average consumer spends an eye-watering nine years of their lives looking at their smartphones, and that’s without mentioning the use of computers, televisions, and other devices that increasingly control our lives. As innovators look to the future, we could be headed for a world where “The Human Interface” takes over, replacing the screens, apps, and keyboards we’re used to with new, immersive experiences.
INTRODUCING THE HUMAN INTERFACE
Though we may have embraced a digital revolution over the past couple of years, the truth is that tech has a dark side, leading to stress, anxiety, the fear of missing out, and addiction, and as the past year, engulfed in health anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic and being forced to spend more time at home than ever before, there’s only so much time you can spend staring at a screen before you need a release. Nowadays, it’s virtually impossible to get by during the day without checking your phone - whether you’re meeting friends, ordering food, or paying for goods in-store, we need our devices more than ever before. This deeper connection with technology has allowed us to become more productive than ever before, it’s also changed the way we live, to a point some scientists and behaviorists are uncomfortable with. Now, as we look to free ourselves from our devices and spend more time in the real world, innovators like Apple are looking at new, noninvasive ways to introduce technology into the world, using gestures, eyes, voice, movement, and health monitoring to transform our lives away from screens and devices.
We’ve already seen a great deal of progress in this field. Take a look at Apple Watch, for example; though competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Watch and Fitbit are beginning to make some headway, Apple Watch is now the world’s most popular watch brand, offering consumers the ability to stay connected with friends, monitor their health, fitness, and activity, and pay for goods and services using their wrist, most of the time without having to look at their screen for an extended period of time. Add in features like NFC tags and Apple’s upcoming
Airtags product, which could be released at its June WWDC 2021 event, and it’s clear that the company is more focused than ever on creating products that blur the lines between online and real-life, thus creating more immersive and valuable technology experiences that improve our lives and make us more engaged, focused, and organized. On top of that, software like screen time, night mode, and even sleep monitoring has allowed us to gain a better understanding of the way we live our lives, and how technology impacts the everyday.
And it’s not just Apple that’s attempting to blur the lines. Elon Musk, CEO of the Tesla brand, recently announced Neuralink, a “breakthrough technology for the brain” that is designed to understand how our brain works, then interface using the brain, and ultimately engineer with the brain to implant wireless brain-computer interfaces in the most complex human organ to help cure neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and spinal cord injuries and ultimately fuse humankind with artificial intelligence. Of course, campaigners are against this and not only site the security risks of such technology, but wonder whether the product is ethical. Andrew Maynard of Onezero said: “Unless ethical questions like these are addressed early on, we’re either looking at a future where brain-computer interfaces create more problems than they solve or one where Neuralink has gone bust because it didn’t take the social and ethical concerns seriously enough from the beginning,” though added that there’s “still time for Neuralink and others to develop a robust strategy for ethical and responsible innovation, so everyone can realize the full benefits of the technology.” Such technologies may feel like they’re straight out of a Black Mirror script book, but the truth is that they’re around the corner. Musk’s concept is actively being experimented on using pigs, and the tech could see the light of day before the end of the decade, changing the way we live forever.
Okay, Elon Musk’s example is perhaps one of the most extreme on the scale, but tech can improve the way we live and also disappear, making us feel as though we’re making the decisions ourselves, forgetting that large parts
of our lives are being controlled by chips and algorithms. Whether that’s a bad thing or not remains to be seen, but as we edge closer into this new mixed-reality world, technology companies must work together to build interfaces and experiences that feel natural, comfortable, and ultimately remain ethical.
THE RISE OF AUGMENTED REALITY
One of the ways in which companies are hedging their bets is through augmented reality; that is when digital imagery and data are superimposed and integrated into the space around you. Rather than looking at a fake world through a screen, you’re seeing the world around you with superimposed elements added to it, whether that’s via a screen or through glasses, such as Apple’s long-awaited Apple Glasses concept which could come this year. The heads-up display in a modern car or a jet fighter is a basic version of augmented reality, though there are much more sophisticated options available, and it’s those we’re most excited about. With so many augmented reality projects in development that might give us some idea of what augmented reality might look like in the future, it’s hard not to think that the technology will soon be mainstream; not just a fad saved for online gaming or parties. Head-mounted augmented reality is set to become the most popular in the years ahead, offering a natural way to see the world through a lens. Right now, they’re large, heavy, and ugly, though companies are working on shrinking down the technology into the same size as a standard pair of glasses. The Google Glass project was an early example of this, using a
tiny projector to display information in your field of view. The project was ultimately scrapped, though similar concepts are now in development at many companies. At Apple, it’s widely expected that the “computer brain” of the device will be powered from the cloud, or from a local computer box, like a smartphone in your pocket. This would make it easier to offer more advanced functionality, without needing to pack everything into a tiny augmented reality glasses frame. It’s likely that the unit will contain small cameras for environmental tracking, and direct retinal projection to actually get the images into your eyeballs. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that, in time, this concept could replace every screen we use today; rather than needing a large television, you could have content streamed into your glasses; it’d remove the need for a screen entirely, with applications that can float around you, in whatever form and style that’s most useful to you. Say, for example, you’re headed to an important meeting in town early tomorrow morning; you can set an alarm, and see a physical alarm clock appear on your bedside table when you wake up. This all might sound like pie-inthe-sky thinking, but screens will soon become obsolete, replaced with FIGLAB designs.
In the longer term, using AR to create a “human interface” could help us reach an augmented reality world, where without wearing glasses, things would look strange. It could be a bit like watching a 3D movie at the theatre without wearing the 3D glasses. It will take many years for innovators to develop AR glasses that can replace our smartphones, TVS, laptops, and other devices, but technology analysts say happen in the next few decades.
THE HUMAN INTERFACE AT HOME
Though augmented reality glasses could be a while off yet, it’s still possible to embrace the human interface from the comfort of your own home. Earlier this year, Apple shocked the world when it announced it was discontinuing the Homepod, after failing to compete with the likes of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. However, the launch of a new Homepod mini; a cheaper, less expensive version of the original device; could offer Apple the avenue it needs to take the Homekit ecosystem to the next level and allow consumers to build their own truly smart homes that listen, adapt, and evolve based on user behavior.
Homekit isn’t a new part of Apple’s software - it’s been around since 2014, and a growing number of manufacturers support the technology - but to take advantage of it, you’ll need a Homepod. A hub device can expand Homekit’s abilities
considerably, inviting guests to use smart home accessories, create routines, and more. As Homekit integrates deeply into IOS, and because Apple is rigorous when it comes to Homekit product approvals, meaning enhanced security, it’s the preferred option for many. As has always been the case with Apple, the more Apple products you have, the better they all work, and with the new Homepod mini, the company should get more consumers onboard to its way of thinking, and ultimately help take the human interface to the next level. We’re still talking pretty straightforward things today - turning on a light, playing music in every room - but in time, Apple will have yet another billion-user ecosystem it can utilize to change the world.
We’re still a way away from a world where our smartphones are obsolete and we’re using voice and gestures to order takeaway and book a doctor’s appointment, but technology giants are changing the way they think about the future. Voice search and VR glasses are only the very beginning of the next generation of technology; in time, innovators will create a world that’s more engaged, less glued to screens, and happier than ever before. We can’t wait to get there, and in the meantime, we’ll embrace new ideas as they come our way.