Technology works when it’s invisible

Technology works when it’s invisible

As Apple’s advertising for the iPad states, it is only when technology is invisible that it truly works. Do you remember how many times you used to have to reboot your computer every day? Or how big the first mobile phones were? Have you ever spent time on the phone to tech support trying to fix something that should have worked anyway?

If you have been a user of technology for more than a few years then you know the pain of spending more time setting up, fixing and swearing at technology than actually using it successfully. This is how it is; when it fails we moan and shout but when it works we say nothing. We live in an amazing age of incredible technology and it is only going to get better, but we need to remove some of the barriers to acceptance which failure and bad user experience create.

We are moving into a new era of ‘technology everywhere’ and ‘internet in everything’. Some call it “the internet of things”. There is a lot to look forward to, and a lot to worry about. Successful products will be those that aim to do a few things well and simply work every time. The complexity of interconnected products is enormous. The only way for all these concepts to become reality is for good technology standards to emerge, and for products to be built on top.

When It Works

I have recently purchased a new smoke alarm. Not a big technology device usually, but this is from the makers of the Nest thermostat. It’s a great product which targets a seemingly already solved problem. It is connected to the internet. It’s also connected to the three other smoke alarms in my house.

nest-protect1

When it detects smoke, carbon monoxide or heat it will announce in a clear human voice that it has detected a problem, followed by a loud alarm (if not told otherwise). This announcement comes from every smoke alarm in my house telling me in which room the problem is, and it also appears as alert on my phone if I am out of the house. I can cancel the alarm by waving at the device in case I have simply burnt the toast. If it detected carbon monoxide and I had the Nest thermostat, it would tell the thermostat to turn off the boiler as this is the most likely source of the problem.

This is the connected device world. This device is invisible to me except when I really need it. It simply works. It might save my family’s lives one day.

User Experience

Technology developers are always keen to add as many features as they can to any product. The problem with this is that your product becomes too cluttered in both user experience and fault possibilities. Focus is the key, focus on a problem. If you can solve a problem that people face every day, and in solving it not obstruct your user, then you succeed. The technology you use is irrelevant to your users. What counts is the user experience.

I can rant on about products I like but there are faults with almost all of them. As an enthusiast I am more forgiving than most people, because I can see the potential in all of them. I would like to think that at some time in the near future, we will all live harmoniously with our technology. If we are to augment our lives with some of the wearable and implantable technology on the horizon then their ability to simply work and become part of our daily existence will be what allows them to break the barrier of resistance. People will accept technology when it is both beneficial and invisible.

Here’s to the future.

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