Home is Where the Smart(phone) is

Home is Where the Smart(phone) is

Would you call a smartphone smart, as in SMART smart? Probably not. Granted, it’s a very capable device with high speed internet, a large screen, more apps than you can use in a lifetime, sensors detecting location, orientation, illumination, heart rate, etc. But smart? Not really. You, as the user, will still have to do all the work. Ironically, some tasks that were easy in the past are sometimes more difficult on a smartphone. Making phone calls? There is an app for that … but where is it?

The predecessors of smartphones were called personal digital assistants (PDA’s). The reference to an assistant sounded promising and suggested that it would actually do something for you. Good assistants offer support before being asked by smartly anticipating what ‘the boss’ desires. The PDAs in those days had no hope of achieving that level of smartness. Neither do today’s smartphones even though all technical ingredients are there to delight their ‘bosses’.

Despite not being smart, people still see the smartphone as a very useful tool. The need to communicate at all times by voice, twitter or email makes people carry their mobile phones all the time whether on the move or at home. As it is never put down, and includes a large arsenal of sensors, the smartphone becomes the perfect platform for monitoring a single person’s behavior. Combine that with the ability to connect to other devices and you have all the building blocks for a powerful assistant that pro-actively can do ‘things’ for it’s ‘boss’.

Where should this smartphone begin its pro-active behaviour? At home! It might be a mobile device, but it will likely be at a user’s home for most of the time. This is also where other trusted devices are found and to which the phone can connect. What should it do? Take your pick: reminding to feed the dog, presenting kitchen specific apps when you’re in the kitchen, turning the TV on when you have just crashed out on the sofa, controlling the lights, heating, etc. All of this only scratches the surface of what is possible if only the smartphone was smart enough to do it.

So, why are we not seeing any smart smartphones in the home if it is technically all there? Lack of common sense on the phone’s part. Using a smartphone to turn the TV on is easy. Turning it on automatically at the right time is something totally different. What smartphones lack is the common sense of a butler. Only proper UX research can make a difference here by finding out what users need, when and how. If we want a smartphone to make smart decisions on our behalf we should give UX research a bigger role in developing the next generation. Only then will smartphones deserve the term personal digital assistant.

Technically everything is possible, making it serve users is where the real challenges are!

Leo Poll is President of Akendi UK.  A firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design, to learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.

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