Problem 28 – No Time to Plan

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Problem

Sometimes, things happen quite spontaneously, or there might be things you forgot to consider. For example, you could suddenly decide to visit a friend one day and then realise you haven’t got anything to eat. You could then use the personal assistant on your phone to find places to eat, but it will only show you the places closest to you at that time and it won’t necessarily be places you like. A place you like might then be too far away and a compromise will have to be made.

Possible Solution

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I think that artificial personal assistants can get a lot smarter and that they are only just in their premature stage at the moment. One way I think they can get smarter is by getting the ability to plan your entire day ahead for you.

This can start by just asking the user what their plans for the day are after they wake up, perhaps when they’re having breakfast. Over time it can learn any potential patterns the user has, for example working 9 to 5 on weekdays or doing grocery shopping every Saturday.

It can then tell the user things like traffic information, weather and even possible places to eat or things to cook. In the evenings it can then recommend films or TV series to watch. If the user does something spontaneous, they can either tell the assistant or the assistant can detect that they are going to a specific location and then suggest places to eat along the way, or things to do when they get there.

Just telling the assistant that you plan to get to a specific location by a certain time can then allow it to calculate the exact leaving time to account for other activities such as eating. It can then help you build a schedule that fits comfortably around what you want to do while also allowing you to get what you need to do done.

Of course there is the issue with privacy if the device is constantly listening and sending the data to a server to analyse. Some people might also dislike the intrusiveness or dependence we will have on technology if it decides everything that we do.

As always, if you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Problem 8 – I Can’t Find What I’m Looking for in Supermarkets

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Problem

There are some things I prefer to do the traditional way. Grocery shopping is one of them. I like being able to pick and choose what I think is the best out of the selection, instead of having someone choose a random one for me. Therefore it means I actually have to go to the shop and then find what I want. This is usually simple for things such as fruit, vegetables and meat; however it can become quite difficult when looking for things I buy less often. For example, recently I couldn’t find salt and before then I couldn’t find eggs. I know that there are signs above each aisle, but they don’t include everything and I generally also look around at eye level and sometimes forget about the signs.

Possible Solution

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I have not been to a supermarket that has solved this problem particularly well yet, and it’s usually just down to the way they lay things out or big signs. However I think a more technological solution can be found.

Many people carry a shopping list when going to a supermarket and many of those are now in digital format on phones. As our main purpose of shopping that day will be to buy those items, then we can tell the supermarket to take us to the location of those items if we share it with them. This can be done by having a ‘shopping list’ feature in a supermarket’s app. We can enter our shopping list onto their app and then it can direct us to the nearest store. Once inside the store it can then direct us using the GPS on our phone through the layout of the store. Using this method, it can also direct us through the store in the quickest way, or even take us past more promotional items.

The app could also tell us if the items we want are in stock and how many are remaining before we even go to the shop. It can then suggest other shops that do have the items we want in stock.

We could also link our payment card to the app and be able to pay direct on the app after shopping instead of having to go to the till. Online shopping can also be incorporated into the app for people who prefer this. It would mean that groceries can be automatically delivered periodically off the shopping list.

In a way, this app concept could be used for any store and not just supermarkets, and would link the digital and traditional ways we buy products.

As always, if you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Losing Touch

I have a friend who lost her phone recently, which deeply upset her, however it was not because of the physical value of the phone. Instead, it was because she felt lost and empty without it. When I heard this, I realised how much we have become attached to some inanimate objects that if we lose them then we will feel like we have lost a friend.

After I heard her story I couldn’t even imagine how I would feel if I lost my phone. I don’t have a particularly amazing phone and I’m even thinking of getting a new one soon, however I think it’s the sentimental value of what is stored on it and also the uncertainty of what I would do without it that makes me feel uneasy. I’ve actually even had dreams of losing my phone before, which is probably quite extreme, but they never end well.

I think our attachment to our phones is quite easy to explain. A lot of people spend a large proportion of their time on their phone every day. It is very rarely a couple of metres away from us and we check on it every so often. The previous sentence could be said by a mother about her baby, and so I think we can develop a similar type of relationship with our phone even though it’s not a living thing that depends on us; it’s the other way around in fact.

Some people would say that it’s unhealthy to develop such a dependent relationship with our phones. I just know that my life would be a lot more difficult without one. I will always remember one time when I was going home from a friend’s house, where I had never previously been. It was late at night and I needed to catch a couple of buses to get home, however halfway through the journey my phone ran out of battery. I desperately tried to read the map and timetable at the bus stop to try to find a route to get me home, however as I didn’t have a watch I didn’t even know how long I had to wait until the next bus would arrive. I somehow made my way home that night, however I know that if my phone had been working then it would’ve told me everything I needed to know without even requiring me to think.

I guess my story shows the good and bad side of being dependent on a phone. The positive side is obviously making our lives easier, and also giving us a reassurance that help is in our pocket if we ever need it. The negative is that we think less and observe the world around us less. We could travel every day on public transport and not even know how to read a bus or train timetable.

Someone found my friend’s phone in the end, however she was not as happy as I thought she would be. After she lost her phone she thought she would never see it again, and so she spoke to some mobile network providers and had prepared to buy a new phone, which was better than her old phone and on a better plan. I’m not saying that what she did and how she now feels is wrong, but it shows that the weakness with our relationship with objects is that as it can become the most important thing in our life, it can just as quickly be forgotten and replaced by a newer version.

What is the Best Form of Communication?

I think communication can be separated into three different categories: visual, audio and text based. From my observation, visual and text based conversations seem to be the most popular forms at the moment, but are they necessarily the best?

Audio communication is the most difficult form in my opinion. This is because I usually like to have a visual connection when communicating. This probably explains why I rarely call anyone unless it is urgent. Although some may see this is probably a deeper form of communication compared to an instant message, as you can hear the other person’s voice, I feel that you don’t get the full picture as you are not able to see them. Therefore what they sound like may not be a true reflection of who they are or what they’re thinking.

Visual communication covers meeting someone face to face or over a video chat. I think this is the most personal and intimate form of communication, as you are able to hear their voice and see their emotions physically and so extends on audio communication. Sometimes, when communicating to someone in another form, it may be difficult to detect the emotions they are feeling. This might be why very personal conversations are often had face to face. However it is not always easy to communicate this way, as with interviews. There is the pressure of time when communicating this way, and hesitations or mistakes cannot be easily fixed or disguised like with text based communication.

Text based communication covers some of the most popular forms of communication nowadays, such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. I think the reason for its popularity is due to its simplicity and practicality. Most people can send a message on one of these social media platforms from anywhere and at any time. Also, as many people almost always have their phone with them, they receive messages pretty much as soon as the other person sends it. However I think that due to the ease of sending an instant message, communication this way has lost a lot of its emotion. Of course, people are still able to have deep conversations this way, but quite often when we receive a message we might in the middle of something else and we will then only spend a split second to read and reply to it. Ask someone what the last message they received was about without looking at their phone and they probably don’t remember, or they probably at least need time to remember.

This does not mean that I think text based communication is the worst form though. This is because it also covers letters. Letters or notes are often used in films to portray a very meaningful form of communication, especially when they’re hand written. This is probably because hand writing a letter takes the most time out of all the forms of communication, and also because it is often clear how much time and effort someone spends on it by their handwriting, amount of writing and contents. Perhaps being a physical object also makes it more special. However the reason I think text based communication can be the best form of communication is because it never goes away if you don’t want it to. If you receive a letter or even an instant message, you are able to keep it forever and, in essence, a hard-copy of the memory is saved. Even memories of the most special face to face or phone conversations can fade, but re-reading a conversation in text form can reignite a memory.

Thumbs

Look at a situation where there is waiting involved. How do people pass the time? Some read a book, some stare into space, but most people are on their phone. This seems like the obvious thing to do, because on a phone there are many things to pass the time with such as the internet, social media and games, however is there something else that makes people naturally take their phone out when bored?

There’s an expression that says people twiddle their thumbs then bored. This might very well be true, especially before the smartphone era. I think that people instinctively move their fingers and thumbs around when they’re bored. Some people resort to ‘fidgeting’ or moving around, but my point is that many people find it difficult to stay still for prolonged periods of time. However, I think when these types of people are using a mobile phone then they may appear to stop moving as much.

I think software and the way a lot of apps are designed also make using the phone or app more addictive. Take some of the most popular social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; they arrange their ‘feed’ of information in an infinite line that can be scrolled down by the user. This seems logical as websites do this and it just seems natural to flow down the screen. However, I think that the way most people scroll down these pages make it very easy to become hooked on. In a simple gesture where the thumb slides up very slightly, the next news article, or photo, or video may appear; I think it’s a very similar gesture to ‘twiddling one’s thumb’. This simple gesture may be performed hundreds of times a day by many people all over the world, and over time could be engraved into the person’s mind to be the thing to do when bored. Perhaps some people even feel withdrawal symptoms if they do not use a phone for a day or two.

It is this ease of use and how everything just seems to flow effortlessly on a screen in front of you that I think can get people addicted to using their phones. I find myself sometimes getting my phone out just to swipe across home screens or to pull the notification centre down without really any need to.

Of course the practicality of always having your phone near you, and also the lightness and almost limitless functionality of a phone also makes it very easy to spend a lot of time on. I think that is a reason why most people in developed and even developing countries have smartphones now. Not because everyone really needs one, compared to a traditional phone that can just be used for calls, but because once you use one it can be quite difficult to go back.

I remember in about 2007, before touchscreen smartphones became the norm, there would be the occasional person who would tell me that phones should just be able to call other people and that all other features are just gimmicks and unnecessary. Perhaps they’re right, but I don’t hear them saying that anymore.

Relationships with Objects

I am sure that most people have a personal possession that they love. Perhaps it’s because they spend a lot of time with it, or because it’s worth a lot in terms of monetary or sentimental value.

My most valued possession would be my phone. First of all, it’s because I chose it out of the hundreds of different phones available, making it special. Secondly, and more significantly, I feel that a mobile phone carries a lot of sentimental value, especially as I do not delete my messages. Looking back at messages shows me some key events in my life that my phone has also been part of, making it a sort of memory bank. I also carry my phone everywhere and probably spend more time with it than I do with anything or anyone else. This really makes my phone very personal and I think that if it gets lost then it might be like losing a friend for me. That last sentence might have sounded slightly obsessive, but nowadays mobile phones can know its owner better than anyone else.

However how can people develop relationships with inanimate objects if it cannot talk back or do anything unless prompted to? Doesn’t a relationship largely rely on communication?

In a way, inanimate objects can communicate with its user. Objects that people usually like the most are the ones that work the best, or are unique. An object that works well sends out a positive message to the user, making them happier when using it. This makes them use the product more often and so, in a way, develop a stronger relationship with it the more they use it. There can also be negative relationships with objects, if a user has suffered from a bad experience while using it. This could be because the object is annoying to use, or a bad memory is associated with it.

ford-focus-rs-2015-(4)2015 Ford Focus

Some products are even designed to carry an expression, most notably, cars. The front face of cars usually have an expression that can attract a user in different ways. Many more sporty cars have a more menacing look to give an impression to the viewer that the car is fast. This can be seen with the Ford Focus, which has an RS version – standing for ‘Rally Sport’ – shown on the left. This RS version has an exaggerated front grille, with sharper features and darker colours, when compared to the standard Focus on the right. Although it can be seen that the standard Focus design already has a slightly menacing look with its thin, inward slanted headlights and sharp lines that make up all the lights at the front. Cars can be made to carry human expressions, so the viewer can relate to the image the designer wants to portray.

This post may seem weird: relating inanimate objects with humans and even saying how relationships can develop between them. However I think that well designed objects should result in a good relationship forming between it and the user. I think that emotion should be designed into all products, and that the most important element of an object is for the user to feel the emotion it has been designed to carry.

The Mobile Domination

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Above: Apple WWDC 2014

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 9.33.35 pmAbove: Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2015

Two decades ago, in many countries, owning a mobile phone was considered a privilege. Nowadays, it is considered a necessity by many, and so it will be rare to find a person without one; and so as more people own one, the larger the mobile phone market grows. This creates fierce competition between companies, most notably between Apple and Samsung, or Apple and Google. This puts a lot of anticipation on the new phones these companies have to offer, as they try to respond to their rival’s best efforts, resulting in extravagant events when they are announced attended by thousands and watched by millions online.

About a decade ago, not many companies would hold an event just to announce a new mobile phone. This largely changed when Apple held an event to announce the iPhone in  2007. Apple did this, as they would usually hold an event to announce a new product, since Steve Jobs took over as CEO. Their event to announce the iPhone was seen as a huge success as it introduced the world to a revolutionary mobile phone at the time. This caused other companies to react, and soon every company released their own ‘smartphone’ and also began to hold their own events to do so. This has resulted in more people attending and watching these events in anticipation to see what innovative features a company could offer in order to compete in the market. This is shown in the images above when thousands of people went to watch an announcement of only an update to Apple’s mobile operating system, and when Samsung announced the Galaxy S6.

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The amount of attention to the mobile phone market can be seen to extend much more beyond the extravagant events held by companies, and onto the sales. This can be seen most clearly on the first day a new iPhone is on sale. The image above shows the queue for the iPhone 6 in 2014 at the Apple store in Covent Garden, London on the first day of sale. There were similar sights across the world at almost every Apple store, as people camp overnight to be first in the queue. Other phones have still not seen this type of hype, possibly as they do not have as large a fan-base as Apple.

This is partially what I mean by ‘the mobile domination’: that mobile phones have become such a personal object in people’s lives that they develop a sort of relationship with the brand. This creates fierce fans who say that they can never be persuaded to own a phone from a rival company, and also those who camp overnight outside a shop to be among the first in the world to own the new model. The other way ‘the mobile domination’ is happening is by the advances in technology in mobile phones. They now dominate our lives, as they can perform many tasks that make our lives much easier, and so we use them more often. Therefore they have grown to dominate our lives emotionally and in terms of time we spend on them. This can be seen to be quite dangerous as companies that produce phones potentially have more control over many people, especially with the growing mobile payment market. Could this mean that soon mobile phone companies will have large amounts of power, such as oil companies have, or perhaps they already do and we don’t even know it.