Resonating Technology

Monday August 21st, 2006 in , ,

I’m sitting here looking at my new cell phone. It’s more elegant than my previous phones, the battery lasts longer, it’s lighter and has more colors, a better camera, more of everything really. But does any of this really make that much of a difference? The short answer for me is no.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the longer battery life as much as the next guy, but when I really think about it, I pretty much use it the same way as my previous phones. Why is this? I recognize that I may be a creature of habit, but from a user’s point of view, the new phone works almost exactly like the old one. It still has digits for entering phone numbers I haven’t used before, the green button answers a call and the red one hangs up. It still rings when I’m at a restaurant, the movies or somewhere it’s considered impolite to answer the phone. It still runs out of battery at the worst possible time, when I’ve had a lot on my mind and didn’t think to recharge it.

What’s missing from my new phone is something that won’t be fixed by continuing the current features arms race or incrementally improving the specs with 10% for each new generation. What I need is a phone that pays attention to its user and the surroundings. The kind of phone that reacts intelligently to our behavior and any given situation to best serve the needs of it’s user. Although this kind of “intelligent and well-behaved” phone might sound far fetched, let’s step back for a moment and think about it:

  • First of all the phone should know where it is. One way to do this is using Assisted GPS and mapping services based on that specific area or building.
  • It should be able to communicate with other nearby devices. Bluetooth and wireless networks to the rescue.
  • It should be aware of the environment. This includes sounds, noise-levels, vibrations, and temperature, all of which can be measured.
  • It shouldn’t run out of battery. On the top of my head: body heat, kinetic energy from body movement, the sun. Anything without wires and an external charger would be a huge improvement.
  • The camera should recognize gestures. It’s complex but quite useful, so I’ll add it anyway.

What would life be like with this phone? Let me give you a few examples of what’s possible:

  • My phone now knows it shouldn’t ring when I’m at certain types of places, for example at the movies, in a restaurant or in meeting.
  • If I need to find a place or meet with someone it can provide relevant information.
  • When I’m in a noisy environment it can adjust the volume of the ring tone. If it’s lying on my desk and I’m sitting next to it, the ring tone will start at low volume.
  • It synchronizes with my PC when it’s within range, allows me to use the PC keyboard for text messages and lets me view photos on the phone using my PC monitor.

Now this is a phone that would make a difference. But what would such a phone look like? For starters it would have no buttons. But how would you answer the phone then? Well, by placing it close to my ear of course.

The bottom line: It doesn’t matter all that much what it looks like, as long as it know what my face and specifically my ears looks like.


One Response to “Resonating Technology”

  1. Using Attention » Blog Archive » How Attention Shapes Interaction Design Says:

    […] How Attention Shapes Interaction Design Wednesday August 23rd, 2006 in gestures, innovation, interaction design, mobile This is a follow up to my recent post about Resonating Technology, so again I’ll use a mobile phone as a case study. This time around the focus is on how attention affects interaction design and the overall user experience. […]

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