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Oak Interactive

SXSW Brain Dump: Part 1

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SXSW LogoFellow Oaker, David Malamud, and myself recently returned from the 2013 SXSW Interactive conference. Neither of us had wielded a a SXSW badge before, so in the days leading up our heads were swimming in nervous excitement. So many panels, exhibitions, swag tents, and parties to choose from – it took us a solid day to learn how to pace ourselves without missing the really good stuff.

One session that I would file under ‘really good stuff’ was Josh Clark‘s “Beyond Mobile: Where No Geek Has Gone Before.” The name gave me mixed expectations. Overall, I was trying to absorb a balance of practical, real-world methodology with pie-in-the-sky futurism. This talk fell squarely in the middle.

I won’t pretend that my summary of Clark’s presentation will do it extra justice – he’s a talented speaker and makes a mean Keynote deck – but I’ll do my best to highlight the moments that hit me hardest. In a sense “Beyond Mobile…” tackles the idea of a ubiquitous user experience. We’ve all watched future-porn, like Minority Report or even the Jetsons, where every appliance remembers your birthday or expands into a video chat screen. Clark reminds us that most of these technologies are here already. The burden of turning this technology into a scalable, user optimized reality is not so much on the shoulders of the lab engineers, but the designers and project managers sitting at the front end. It’s not about making objects smarter, it’s about finessing the ways in which these things speak to one another.

Clark uses a few real-world examples to underscore his point. On how we are already utilizing this principal of balancing smart and dumb technologies, he mentions car stereos that use Bluetooth. When you receive a call, you can answer the call even while your phone rattles around in the trunk. The stereo’s interface become a slave to your phone’s – the same interface that you carry with you all day. Rather than present the user with a whole new interface (there are enough already) the stereo politely steps back, only offering up its hardware advantage of a surround-sound receiver.

A few more futuristic products/concepts that are right under our noses:

Word Lens live translates the printed word. It even mimics the original font.

Apps such as Anytouch and Tabledrum take the interface out of the device.

Leap Motion has already gained some popularity. Affordably turns any screen into a floating touch interface.

My main takeaway from this talk was quit thinking so much about the hardware. Responsive design taught us that creating agnostic, scalable, websites help relieve the headache of keeping up with new screen sizes. Let’s focus on content now. In the strategic  placement of sensors or data inputs, combined with storing what’s collected in an open API, we may find ourselves much closer to the world of floating touch screens and virtual butlers.

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