A.I….Oh My

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Where does one begin with AI….

There are so many places it can go and so many different things it can affect, whether it’s work forces, cars, web browsing and beyond.

For the purposes of Zemoga it’s all really interesting stuff, and as usual our fascination with this technology is both out of personal curiosity but also how it applies to products we build. The biggest thing for us is machine learning. Especially because we work with a lot of retail, publication and healthcare companies.

The purpose of removing friction is a pillar for the things that we build. Every click or every movement through a site or app has to have purpose and direction. It’s so much more than just making a product “pretty”, although that helps. The idea of machine learning, like what IBM is doing with Watson, is really interesting. Not because it’ll destroy the world, but because it’ll help remove a few “clicks” in both my physical and online worlds.

That’s compelling.

Think about the routines of your day. We all have different ones, but imagine the little bits of incremental time that are consumed by your daily “clicks”. Waking up, starting your coffee, jumping in your car or taking the subway, etc. Each having varying degrees of interaction.

You see machine learning in small ways today, your watch telling you to get up and move, or Google Now saying, “time to leave in order to get to a restaurant before it closes”. These are all “small” things but they are providing bits of value that literally give you back time. Brands will get better at leveraging this tech because it means it can help them move away from being “salesy” with its’ customers. Let the AI figure out the appropriate times when, quite practically and literally, you just need a new shirt. This allows the brand to offer genuine value and rethink what it means to be “loyal”.

This AI/machine learning tech is useful because there are actual needs that we have. For a brand to better understand those moments of actual need, it helps them know the RIGHT time to talk, which is important. Most advertising is the “fishing with dynamite” model. The brand sits in a boat, lights a stick of dynamite throws it into the water, dynamite explodes and some fish float to the surface. That’s how brands currently communicate. They don’t know how to speak directly to you, they just aren’t good at it, so they have to quite literally at times disrupt your day to make sure you see them.

This is why certain types of AI are fascinating. We get hyper focused on the car or the robot, but those things are larger and visible versions that will take time. The great first step is the behind the scenes AI for our everyday lives, just removing friction. Giving us back bits of time to focus on things that matter. It’s an exciting time for sure – and the space is changing quickly- but at the end of the day we all want more time and this is why AI isn’t going anywhere.

 

The Future is Now: AI is Here

 

Artificial. Intelligence: For some, those two words conjure up images of a dystopian future, a “robot apocalypse”, set in the not-too-distant future – in a world where humans have failed and machines have prevailed.

For others, this is an opportunity for mankind to put decades of collective learning to the test, and to find out if humans can create something more intelligent and complex than ourselves.

Either way, there is no denying that this divisive issue consistently lands at the top of the “Hot Topics” list in the tech industry. It has been the topic of TEDx Talks, Hollywood films, and even Vanity Fair articles.

Whether it’s Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkings asserting that hostile AI is going to destroy the world, or Ray Kurzweil speaking of the inevitable singularity…. one thing is certain. This new technology, if approached in the right manner, has the potential to change the way we view the world and the information around us, and will most certainly impact almost every industry imaginable from agriculture and education, to finance, automotive and even medical.

The fact that great minds like these are having an extended dialogue on the topic foreshadows that this is the brave new world that this form of technology is entering into. One thing these thought-leaders can all agree on, is that we humans must tread carefully as we continue to develop and employ these game-changing technologies that could leave us in the dust once they realize that they have the ability to do so. Broadly speaking, AI will solve some major problems – not the least of which could include the eradication of disease and poverty – while causing others, which are have yet to be seen.

So… what does this mean for the general public? Over the next few weeks, Zemoga will be taking a deeper look into this exciting, but mysterious voyage that we’ve begun to embark on, and we’ll offer up different insights on how AI and machine learning can be used for the greater good. We’ll explore IBM’s Watson and similar existing technologies, while looking into our crystal Z-ball to see what’s next. Be on the lookout! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up…. or we will send our robots after you… they know where you live.

 

 

Will the real value of that Apple Watch app please stand up?

When I started to think about writing a piece on Apple Watch I was certain I would talk about the device from a rather skeptical angle. All the annoying buzz, added to the fact that I’ve not used a wristwatch in more than 15 years, had me very pessimistic about the success of this gadget. However, at some point last week, in the middle of the process of actually writing the article, I finally had the chance to really think it through and realize the potential of new, paradigm-breaking devices like this one.

The iPhone’s sidekick

Many out there are frustrated by the fact that Watch apps are not 100% standalone and depend (at least partially) on an iPhone. This is true because the technical architecture of this first generation of the Apple Watch is very limited in terms of how much load you can put on it. It also has to do with the purpose this kind of device is supposed to serve, from a strategic point of view.

It’s a companion device. It’s a peripheral to the CPU that is the iPhone. Think of it as a sidecar for a motorcycle, as a Robin for a Batman, as a Garfunkel for a Simon. [EDITOR’S NOTE: We have banned JDV from all future analogies]. You can either look at it as a very weak and limited companion or as a companion with special abilities.

Now, the question many are asking is: does the iPhone need a sidekick? Well, iPhones are great and recent versions are capable enough to edit video, stream audio and process 3D graphics at unbelievable speeds. However, they’re sometimes too much when all you need to do is check the time, read that Twitter mention, check the weather, see the score of your team’s game or find out the name of that song Pandora’s playing and maybe save it as a favorite. Reaching out to your pocket to pull out your phone and look at its bright giant screen when you’re with people not only sounds like a lot of effort, but also (and more importantly) it has a social cost —which is becoming more and more true with time. In the future you will want to remain connected, but will definitely prefer to be more discreet, if possible.

Let’s build the f… out of that Watch app now (or maybe not)

Does all this mean that every product should have a Watch companion? No. Like it happened with the inclusion of widgets in the notification center in recent versions of iOS, every other app rushed to conquer that special place of their users’ screen, but not many really had a reason to do it. For a product designer, this decision has to come from the users and what’s important to them. If that shiny feature you pushed into your users’ watches has no value in that context or is simply impossible to operate, those users will punish you by ignoring it, or worse.

Finding the value

We at Zemoga keep talking about user experiences and how these are larger than what happens within the limits of a screen of an app. Think of an experience as a huge flying spaghetti monster, with a bunch of tentacles that belong to the same creature, but extend to reach and connect to other undetermined places. This sounds complex because user experiences are complex.

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Say you have a pretty iPhone app on the App Store. It’s never just about the app living as a standalone thing. Just take two minutes to think outside that box and visualize the entire experience around your users’ interaction with that app:

  • What makes them download it?
  • What motivates them to keep checking it over and over?
  • How do they learn about new activity within the app?
  • How do they let the world know they’re using it?
  • In which contexts do they interact with it?
  • What are they thinking/feeling in those moments?
  • What else are they doing at the same time?
  • What did they do before interacting with your app?
  • What will they do afterwards?
  • Etc…

Asking yourself questions like these, talking with actual or potential users, mapping the entire experience are all good exercises in order to understand the user in a more holistic way and create an inventory of the many touchpoints where your product can provide value. Those touchpoints give you a better understanding of your users’ needs in different contexts and can be translated into opportunities to expand the functionality of your product to other devices like the Apple Watch.

It’s all about context (a practical example).

Let’s think of an airline and their iPhone app, which probably offers all the functionality you would expect to find in a decent airline’s app: ability to book a flight, deals, information specific to your mileage program, an option to check-in, information about your flight, access to your boarding passes, etc. It looks like a very solid app, including all the basics and more.

Now let’s take a step back for a second and think about the experience of flying, which is full of touchpoints—moments in which the customer is interacting in any way with the airline and the experience of flying with that airline. The moment you get to the terminal and check-in, when you’re going through security, that block of time before you board the flight (maybe you go to the food court, maybe you ask an attendant for an upgrade, maybe you’re running from one terminal to another to catch a connecting flight), the moment you’re finally at the gate, the moment you’re about to board the plane, etc.

All these touchpoints are opportunities for our airline to add value through different devices according to whatever makes most sense: could we say, for example, that right after you’ve gone through security, your phone (the one you used to purchase your tickets) takes a backseat and your watch becomes your go-to device from that moment on?

  • Could your watch give you a visual confirmation that your flight is on time and help you find the terminal and gate you have to board the next plane from?
  • Could the watch give you a nice alert when your group is ready to board?
  • Could its screen stay on to show a QR code they can scan to let you board the plane?

We’re covering pretty much all the same functionalities you already had in this airline’s app, but now some of them are being distributed to the device that is most convenient for you in that context and in that moment. We’re improving your overall experience as a traveler, giving you extra reasons to choose this airline again the next time. We’re creating loyalty through user experience.

Let’s recap.

There’s a huge opportunity in creating experiences that live in this new device, but not every single idea will succeed. Product designers need to be smart and think of the entire experience their product can provide and, as always, find smart ways to distribute that experience among different devices (desktop, laptop, TV, tablet, phone, and now watch), thinking always about the relation between task, device capabilities and context.

As for the things you want your users doing on a Watch, it just requires a bit of common sense: asking Shazam to find the name of the song that’s playing in that bar? Yes, please! Buying plane tickets and booking hotels for that multi-city trip around Asia? Hmmm, maybe not yet.

 

Apple Watch: It’s about time

It’s an interesting time we live in. A lot of the hilarious things from futuristic movies of the past are legitimately coming to fruition: the VR headsets of Demolition and Lawnmower Man, AI like we’ve seen in movies like Terminator and Short Circuit and the personalized tech of Dick Tracy and Star Trek in Smart Devices. Yes, there even is a flying car now, granted it’s not as cool as something from The Fifth Element, but hey, we’re getting there. It’s all very wild to think about.

The thing that is of current obsession in our culture is of course the Smart Watch. One watch in particular: the Apple Watch. If you don’t think this watch is a big deal, here’s a list of links for every review just from today written about this product:

The Verge

The Wall Street Journal

Business Insider

The New York Times

That’s just a few. I could probably add 10 more links. So what more can be said? There are literally thousands and thousands of words on this one little device. It’s also a super divisive topic. People either love this thing or hate it. It’s either “the future” or our “demise” as a people. Like any story, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Bottom line is this: This device is not going to change the world anytime soon.

The reason why: The world around it needs to catch up.

Most massive technological breakthroughs aren’t necessarily because of the “breakthrough” itself, it’s more about the things surrounding it (ecosystem) that allow the breakthrough to be meaningful. Think about it: the idea of a car is cool, but what makes it great and something that can expand? Roads. Microsoft created the tablet years ago, but it never took off. Why? Because a computer was still better and the “portability” of America didn’t exist 10+ years ago.

This is ultimately the Apple Watch’s fate. It’s appears to be quite a unique and valuable product. That value will only increase when everything else around it catches up. My favorite article about this so far is one by M.G. Siegler comparing Apple Watch to Disney’s Magic Band.

M.G. Siegler compared the Apple Watch to Disney's Magic Band

M.G. Siegler compared the Apple Watch to Disney’s Magic Band on Medium

 

The Disney Band is great because it’s such a passive device. It works without you having to really think. Apple Watch needs to convince the world around it that they also need to become more passive. You can see it starting to happen with things like “Smart” locks, lights, hotel room doors. Those are all fun, but it’s not until it’s at a Disney level where I walk in and you know I’m there, I can pick up some items and just walk out and be charged that it becomes helpful.

That’s what this little device potentially means. It’s worth being slightly pragmatic at this point as well, because lets be honest, a lot of those things can be accomplished with our current smartphones, so it’s often redundant to try and claim a watch can solve the problem when we haven’t really been able to solve a problem with our phones, which is actually much smarter than any of these watches.

Zemoga poked fun at the Apple Watch hype with iSquint.

Zemoga poked fun at the Apple Watch hype with iSquint.

As a digital agency, this is how we try to think about it as well. A good brand knows that a great website or app isn’t an island unto itself. It has to be able to work well and make sense within a larger digital environment. The watch doesn’t mean we can make better screen experiences for that device. It means we can create better physical environment experiences. The websites and apps we develop can now have their reach extended into the physical world passively, in time. It adds a new level of challenges to creating a great UX, because now it isn’t simply on a screen that you can walk away from.

So love it or hate it, the Apple Watch is here, and it’s not going anywhere. We are planning on ordering quite a few to begin thinking through what it all means not just to digital world, but the physical world around us. Be sure to follow us this month as our team dives into the different aspects of this shiny new toy.

Let us know what you think! Tweet us at @zemoga or follow us on Facebook.

 

 

Virtual Reality: Made in milliseconds

by Camilo Soto

This is part four of a month-long series on VR. Check out parts one, two, and three.

There are tons of virtual reality headsets coming out in the next year. How do they trick your mind into thinking you’re looking at a 3D space? What are the specs you need to make sure you don’t get sick?

Made in milliseconds

3D is produced by showing two different images to each eye to simulate what your eyes would normally see. It tricks your brain into thinking you’re present in a digitally produced environment. It sounds pretty simple, but in order to actually allow a person see what they would naturally see in a different environment, the image that they are looking at needs to be updated between 40 and 60 times per second, keeping track of exactly what they’re looking at.

This means that in a matter of milliseconds, the headset needs to figure out the user’s position and orientation, pass this information to the computer, and the computer in turn needs to produce an image that matches what the world would look like from that specific point in space.

Sony's Project Morpheus touted

Sony’s Project Morpheus touted

Advances made during the last decade in a number of fields have made it possible to produce a sense of “presence” that would have been impossible before. High resolution, high quality display technologies, and a push forward by the mobile phone market have made it possible to make portable “retina” quality screens that look great even when placed mere inches from your eyes.

Valve claims no one has gotten motion sickness while using the HTC Vive.

Valve claims no one has gotten motion sickness while using the HTC Vive.

 

Sensor technologies such as accelerometers and gyroscopes, miniaturized and optimized for use in motion controllers and mobile devices, make it possible to track movement and orientation very accurately and very fast. Last, but not least, advances made in CGI for the entertainment industry make it possible to create very realistic real-time renderings of imaginary environments. Put these elements together and you have a portable headset capable of actually making a person feel like they’ve been transported to another world.

In the VR arms race, developers are trying to differentiate their hardware by claiming it has the lowest refresh rate, highest resolution, or lowest latency.

Limitations on interaction

VR has been pushed forward very strongly by the gaming industry, but its application in gaming is still somewhat blurry. The reason for this is that even though you may be capable of creating the illusion of being in a fantasy world, you still need to solve the issue of allowing the player to act upon it.

This is where the controllers come in, but you can’t exactly let the player move around using their full body when they’re blinded to the physical world they’re moving around in. We’ve all seen the youtube videos of where that can lead. Solutions have been implemented using harnesses, rolling floors and dedicated rooms that track the user, but that’s very far from practical and ages away from becoming mainstream enough that making content for this platforms sounds like a good business proposition. There will always be classic controllers which gamers are used to, but can you really expect them to go through a long play session without being able to see the controller they’re using?

MorpheusDemo

That leaves us with a technology that allows people to immerse themselves in an environment, but with very little capability to do much more than spectate. That sounds an awful lot like another huge branch of entertainment, where you look but don’t touch: cinema. Therefore, some of the first popular experiences in VR are bound to be experiences where you’re just an audience, immersed in a world in which things are happening, but unable to act on them.

Initially, VR’s strength will be experiences that allow users to navigate environments that would otherwise be unreachable, allowing them to effect changes that would be impossible in real life. You could for instance allow people to navigate their new home before it’s built, changing the furniture, the paint or the time of day. The big question right now is whether there’s going to be a wide adoption of the technology for household use, or if it’s going to be the type of thing that you run into at the mall as a curiosity.

The bottom line is VR is just a platform, a new display technology, and the most defining factor in it’s success and meaningfulness will be the content and experiences available in it.

Have thoughts on VR? Have thoughts on our thoughts? Tweet at us @zemoga! Also check us out on Instagram and Facebook!

 

Virtual Reality: Let’s not replace reality… yet

This is part three of a month-long series on VR. Check out parts one and two.

There’s nothing new about Virtual Reality. It’s not that it’s an obscure technology that has been under dark basements all this time. I remember playing Heretic and Doom on VR systems in the 90’s; but now, thanks to many factors, VR tech is (almost) reaching the level of being accessible to the common man.

Currently, there’s a fistful of companies that are trying to push their own tech on the VR dream. Some are even located between the blurred lines of the industry, like Microsoft HoloLens that is more Augmented Reality than Virtual Reality, but follows the momentum of the Not-Real-Reality zeitgeist. Most of these efforts will die, and that’s ok. Everyone’s pitching their own ideas, and at the end, the most convenient and popular will survive, or maybe not (looking at you, VHS and Blu-Ray).

Nintendo's Virtual Boy was released in 1995, and was discontinued six months later.

Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was released in 1995, and was discontinued six months later.

How do we interact with VR?

Whoever wins the arms race, what we really expect to reap are behavior standards. That is what concerns us as experience architects. Right now, all VR efforts have pretty much only one behavior in common: You can turn your head and perceive the virtual-augmented environment around. All the other basic elements of the experience and how you interact (if you can) with this environment vary. We are not talking about some basic button to push here, we are talking about stuff that aims to compete with reality itself.

LeapMotion attaches to Oculus Rift and tracks your hand movements.

LeapMotion attaches to Oculus Rift and tracks your hand movements.

VR needs an equivalent of Xerox mouse or Apple’s touch gestures on the first iPhone. An easy way to interact with the world that VR is promising, that is easy to use and quick to learn. One will think that because VR aims to involve the entire self, body gestures are an easy way to go on this, after all, finger gestures quickly became a standard, so this should be like the next “step”. But time has proven that it’s not really cool to waste your energy moving your arms around to do a simple action that can also can be done with a simple finger movement, like when we tap or click on a mouse.

Right now there are a lot of options that aim for the title of standard, or at least the better option. From complete stations that let the user feel like he’s walking in a single place to motion sensors and simple hand controls. All of those have been borrowed from the world of videogames; a world that has been dreaming with VR for decades.

Since the Nintendo Wii made popular the revolutionary “Wiimote”, it seemed that it was possible to create a decent body interaction with potential VR systems. But that’s for games, and you can only play boxing like that for some time before you get tired. Some experiences require less physical immersion and more of a sensorial experience.

Start Simple

If VR wants to aim to any kind of public and be a platform for a wide arrange of products, it needs to start simple before it gets complex. I bet somebody will want the complete “Lawnmower Man” battle station at home, but maybe companies need to aim low to hit high for now, stop pretending to replace reality itself.

THE-LAWNMOWER-MAN

Still, VR is still a technology with a potential to be as immersive as anything anyone has ever experienced, so simple interactions still need to be on the level of the potential that the device is promising. We don’t want to break immersion using the same Xbox controller we use for games on a flat screen. We want interactions that can go from a jump to the movement of a finger, and compact and precise enough so you don’t have to take the kids out of their room to build a VR place where you can do all that.

Maybe Facebook with the Oculus have another vision of what the market could want more than Valve+HTC, but for now, what we need is to start seeing the results of all those ideas on the public and see how they (and we) react.

In these infant times of an old technology, we can’t demand to have epiphanies of how things are going to be forever. We expect evolution, and as designers, is our duty to give those ideas challengers and opportunities, embrace chaos and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s time to aim for the moon, we will reach for the stars next… from the comfort of our sofas… using our VR headsets.

Let us know what you think about User Experience in VR by tweeting @zemoga!

 

 

Virtual Reality: Look, but don’t touch

This is part two of our month-long coverage of VR and You (catchy right? not really). Check out our high-level VR landscape summary from part one.

It’s funny, I tend to be someone who is really hesitant about most new technologies. Once people find out that I work in product development/strategy, they’re usually shocked by this fact. I think it comes down to a way of thinking: Do you think like a customer or a marketer? As well as the idea of right place and right time. Remember Microsoft created a tablet and “smart”watch years ago, but it never stuck. Would argue that right place and time got last due to many factors: hardware, software, and execution.

Virtual Reality for Marketers

I can see why the Marketer loves new technologies. Unfortunately, it’s been the lowest common denominator in terms of thinking when it comes to how to monetize a product. If you can’t figure how to monetize then, “we can always sell ads”. More screens just means more ways for people to push things you don’t want into your face. I tend to think like a consumer as much as possible in the development of any strategies or products. That usually means thinking “where am I experiencing the friction? How can I make a decision faster? How does this thing entertain or benefit me?”

VR is great because there aren’t a whole lot of ways for traditional marketers to leverage it, even though they are trying. At Zemoga we build stuff. So we love the prospect of building experiences for our clients on VR. Letting an experience add value/entertainment to the end user is the best form of marketing.

Virtual Reality for Brands

So what does that mean for you, Brand? How can you leverage VR? Well, you have to ask yourself a couple questions:

  1. Am I poised to support VR strategy post launch of my VR initiative?

  2. Is what I am trying to create capable of being better experienced IRL?

The answer to these questions for most is probably, “no”.

A great example is what Audi recently did with VR.

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In short, the VR experience helps give the potential Audi driver a sense of what it’s like to be inside the car. You see where this is going right?

Why would I need have the “experience” of a door shutting or the sound of the audio system? Wouldn’t the best way to provide that be from actually sitting inside one of their gorgeous cars? Listening to their incredible sound system and feeling the engine as I press on the gas. I love Audis, but is the Audi so out of reach for most customers that VR would help convert on a purchase? Or heighten the experience? I would argue “no”.

I can see VR being very applicable, however, for the customer looking to buy a Gulfstream G650. There is no way to know what a custom G650 looks like because they are built from scratch for their customers. Sure, I can see inside one that’s already been built, but every Gulfstream jet has literally millions of configurations internally (they have over 2,000 types of leathers to choose from alone). VR could be a great way to help a buyer see exactly why they’re spending 100 million dollars.

Virtual Reality makes sense as the next step for Gulfstream's DesignBook

Virtual Reality makes sense as the next step for Gulfstream’s DesignBook

The type of person looking to spend $70-120k on an Audi, however, wants to sit in that Audi, because it’s a product that isn’t that far out of reach or that provides so many custom details that even a base model S8 couldn’t communicate it’s value. Also, they aren’t in short supply. Every local dealer will keep these products on site, they’ll even come pick you up in one. So again, the IRL experience is far better than the VR one could ever be. So to me, this VR play was nothing more than a PR play. That isn’t to say it’s a bad thing, but it only adds value to the brand, not the consumer. I know you can make the “customer perception argument”, but the VR experience isn’t going to make the close. It’s going to be sitting behind the wheel of that S8 that will make them choose it over the Mercedes S class.

This is the reason why the gaming industry is running full speed ahead with VR. It’s their job to create worlds we could never experience IRL. Environments that don’t truly exist IRL made possible to experience through VR.

Does this mean as a brand you shouldn’t be thinking about and playing with VR? Absolutely not. You should be investing time into how the tech works and looking to explore ways to bring experiences to life for your customers. Just let this governing strategy guide you:

Can the experience we want to create be better IRL? If the answer is “yes,” move on to another idea.

Next week we’re going to hit on part 3, which is about UX and VR. Be sure to check back in and be sure to tweet at us if you love or hate what we said @zemoga.

Chad