Top 10 Tech Trends: Ambient User Experience

As 2015 draws to a close, tech experts are looking to the future – and high on the list of talking points are Gartner’s Top 10 Tech Trends for 2016. But what are these innovations all about? How will they impact us and are they as important as they’re cracked up to be?

We’ll be looking at each of these much-trumpeted tech trends in turn to figure out just what kind of impact they’re likely to have over the coming year. In our last post, we analyzed the Device Mesh; today, we look at the second trend on the list: Ambient User Experience.

What is Ambient User Experience? 

Okay, let’s start with what “ambient” actually means: something that blends harmoniously into the environment around you, appearing to be a part of it, without directly demanding your attention. Think soft jazz playing in the background, shaping your mood without you really noticing why. Now imagine that rather than soft jazz, we’re talking about technology, applications, information. Stuff that keeps working away, ticking along in the background, responding to the data it collects automatically to shape your environment and your experience without you consciously interacting with it. That’s the Ambient User Experience.

What Does this Mean in Practice?

To be honest we’ve been heading in this direction for some time. Many of our apps already integrate with one another, collecting information to automate updates and streamline the user experience. Websites deploy complex algorithms to analyze our search histories, comparing this to big data insights in order to predict our next move with ever greater accuracy.

On a case-by-case basis, the smartest technologies are already able to analyze data on the immediate environment and adapt automatically in sophisticated ways too, whether it’s clothing that regulates our body temperature or cars that maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. These products might not have broken through the mainstream just yet, but the capability is there, waiting in the wings for its moment to shine.

What’s been missing from the equation until now, is a coherent way for our devices to do what individual apps already do: collect information from one other to shape the ambient user experience on our behalf. But that is slowly starting to change. And for companies to keep up, they’ll have to move away from seeking ways to push their app, device or branding to the foreground and instead think about the complete user experience – how to be convenient, streamlined, nigh-on invisible. In short, how to become ambient.

What Gartner Says:

“Designing mobile apps remains an important strategic focus for the enterprise. However, the leading edge of that design is focused on providing an experience that flows across and exploits different devices, including IoT sensors, common objects such as automobiles, or even factories. Designing these advanced experiences will be a major differentiator for independent software vendors (ISVs) and enterprises alike by 2018.”

What We Say:

In our last post, we talked about the “device mesh” – the ever-proliferating variety of sensors in our devices that is furiously collecting data all the time, and will soon start to share this directly with other devices, instead of funneling it back into company-specific silos. It’s easy to see how the device mesh and the ambient user experience will go hand in hand: as the technologies we use increasingly communicate with each other directly, they’ll be able to shape our user experience without our interference, or even awareness.

For individual brands, blending into the background rather than foregrounding your product is often counterintuitive – and that’s likely to make them resistant to fully embracing the device mesh. But in the digital space, the genie is out of the bottle. And it’s the growing willingness of app designers to anticipate this trend that will slowly drive other technologies and brand strategies in the same direction.

Ultimately, it’s all about synchronicity, about gathering contextual data, about getting smart enough to organize user’s lives without them really noticing it happening. And if that all sounds a bit like the plot of I, Robot, then… well, yeah. Let’s hope our devices don’t start developing consciousness any time soon!

This is the second in a 10-part series on top trends for 2016. In our next post, we’ll be talking about another hot new trend: 3D Printing Materials. See you there!

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