People of a certain age may remember Hypercard, a card-based storytelling interface that ran on early Apple computers. The idea of representing digital information on a card has found a new lease on life, thanks to popular applications like Apple's Passbook, Google Now, and Tinder.
As smartphones became ubiquitous, the Internet evolved a new purpose--social connection. Humans, more than ever before, were picking up their 3 x 5-inch box with a single goal in mind.
Smartphone interfaces flattened to accommodate a handful of likely uses: entertainment, productivity, directions. That's the menu we see today on our home screens. A single front door. We don't know which room you'll pick, but we've given you some shortcuts--apps.
But apps are not the perfect answer--in the hyper-competitive world of apps, it's expensive to make a good one, and they still require users to download them. We need a new medium that's as easy as creating a Facebook page or a Keynote deck, and just as shareable.
The Predictive Web
Wouldn't it be great if your device "knew" what you needed before you had to ask for it? For example, finding your airport gate and departure time currently takes multiple steps: Home button. Swipe. Open email or travel app. Look for information.
As interface designers skilled at designing with data, we should know you're at the airport and react to your desires, rather than your questions. Bite-sized interfaces, rendered as cards--easily built, accessed, and shared--are the right answer to these contextual moments.
Card-based interfaces are already becoming part of everyday life. Apple's Passbook and Google Now serve up loyalty cards and boarding passes as we walk past coffee shops and airports. Just before you leave home, a card appears that predicts your commute time to work. As relevant as any of these cards may be, there is a longing for more.
Because contextual intelligence is improving, the utility of cards becomes a fantastic interface for contextually delivered services. Systems like IBM's Watson or Google Now are raising the frequency and accuracy of quality moments for interaction.
A bridge to the invisible interface
Cards also fill in a visual gap left by emerging voice interactions with our devices. It's easy to ask for directions or order takeout using our voice but once we've given an instruction we still often need to see a map or make a selection from a menu to complete the task. Cards solve for the gaps created by these new modalities and make them practical for daily tasks.
What's needed now are cards with greater sophistication, more functionality, more engagement. What can happen when cards are collected? When they're shared? What happens when they're connected together?
We believe we have one answer in a product we have helped develop called Wrap. You can see it for yourself at www.wrap.co. It is what I'd simply describe as a mobile flipbook, a collection of cards assembled to tell stories and engage with functionality normally found in native applications. Because it's a web service, a wrap can be delivered through an embedded link in an email, a social post, a mobile ad, or sent directly. Swiping left to right and up and down, readers consume the content and engage with rich app-like features such as scheduling, maps, chat, and buy buttons.
We see a pent up demand to deliver these short narratives; to assemble bite-sized experiences that are related and connected to each other, drive engagement, and anticipate needs.
Humans are quite adept at anticipating needs. Consider a hotel concierge. At his post he is equipped with the contextual information we all have. He knows the time of day, the city and the weather. When he sees a couple approaching, he begins to form recommendations. They're nicely dressed, with no luggage. They're likely coming to him for dinner reservations, but he still needs to have a narrative and interact with them to put the pieces together.
And just as that couple approached the concierge to inquire about the best place for a romantic dinner, people are yearning to ask their devices pertinent questions. Siri may be awkward, but the behavior is significant. Humans are relying more on devices for decision support.
Dialogs are universally connecting. People tell stories--so do brands. And because the web is still wild with every form of content known to man, we can reduce a lot of the complexity with the simplicity of cards. With their standardized form factor and ease of consumption, cards can be assembled into meaningful packages, ultimately becoming a new media form. This is our vision for the future of mobile engagement, the next evolution of the Narrative Web.