And the word of SxSW is… Ambient
Cutting though the marketing speak, what we’re really talking about here is the ability of technology to be invisible, which is a very desirable attribute for it to have.
SxSW break-out apps Highlight and Geoloqi all feature ambient services of some sort – not requiring you to nominate your location directly and allowing friends to keeps tabs on you without any effort on your behalf.
There is a larger trend at play here, and that is technology gradually getting out of the way of your daily life and just doing what it should.
Examples using geo-locations are many, such as your home knowing when you’re about to arrive and turning on the lights, adjusting the heating and boiling the kettle.
The concept of ‘invisible buttons’ are where things become very interesting because they begin to solve the issue of screen fatigue. Look around you now and most people will be staring at screens large and small. This is beginning to be perceived as a significant pain point and apps that don’t need you to look at a screen are starting to emerge as a result.
A good example discussed at the festival, again by Amber Case, is one of haptic feedback in GPS. She showed a belt that vibrates when a person faces north. This had the curious side effect of the individual suddenly having a much better sense of where they were in the city, where home was and where work was. She referred to it as almost a 6th sense.
For me, it could be used to solve issues with in-car interfaces. Having your steering wheel vibrate on the left or right as you approach turns could be an interesting approach to navigation without screens.
There will be much more of this approach to interaction to come over the next year. But for now, build things to be invisible and get used to the word Ambient – because that’s not going to disappear any time soon.