Chances are you're part of a company built on the recent wave of mobile and cloud advances. Your business depends on your customer's ability and willingness to absorb the experience you've created across desktop, mobile, and the cloud and to respond accordingly with clicks, swipes, and touches. But that mode of customer interaction is about to diminish, and in some cases disappear, giving way to 'invisible interfaces' like voice and gesture. How will you prepare your business for this shift? 

If you ask Siri for directions while you're driving hands-free, or ask Alexa to play an audiobook while you're mixing the dinner salad, you're familiar with an invisible interface. Voice and gesture controls are most evident right now, though eye movement isn't far behind, and other technologies will follow. Indicators like light, sound, and vibration often seem invisible because they operate so elegantly in the background. And lastly, artificial intelligence is emerging as a way to shortcut many of the manual computer interactions required of us today.

Invisible interfaces are appealing because they eliminate distraction. A smartphone is a wondrous tool but it can be cumbersome too--fishing it out of your pocket, fumbling with the lock screen, fiddling with the apps, and dashing off a text message as fast as you can. This is where voice comes in. Through voice we can weave interaction with a machine into the midst of other activities--driving, working, and interacting with other people.

The challenge is that computing today is built on menus. Invisibility would then put a huge burden on the user's memory and expertise to accomplish even a moderately complicated task. On the voice front, so-called 'conversational interfaces' will depend on machine intelligence powerful enough to not only accurately parse human speech but also respond as a person would respond, in a natural voice that addresses a customer's stated or potential need. A pizza delivery setup's voice service will need to be able to handle a person with a foreign accent, who wants twelve pizzas in several combinations of toppings, and then has questions about cost and delivery times.

On the gesture front, people could be easily confused by the number of gestures they'll need to remember in order to interact with potentially hundreds of products in their lifetimes. Perhaps the conversational interface could kick in to offer a gentle reminder, or quick tutorials could appear through online video or augmented/virtual reality. Voice and gesture will require some level of standardization to become mainstream.

But the invisibility wave is coming fast, so what should you do? If your business experience requires a mobile app, then you need to take a long look in the mirror. Ask yourself: How many customer interactions could take place through a non-visual medium like voice or gesture? Where could visual communication continue to play a role, for example in a next-generation medium like augmented reality?

To illustrate, let's return to the example of the pizza delivery service. Like a lot of startups, this kind of business offers a product that used to be a simple retail affair, but now has transformed into something delivered as a service and managed through online and mobile apps. Years ago I could make a successful pizza business with a good product, a well-chosen location, and an attractive storefront. With the advent of online ordering, the 'interface' to my business shifted from traditional retail qualities to a virtual storefront. I had to translate my front-counter dialog with the customer to an online ordering form. I had to better encode my business to make it possible to work online. 

Now the advent of voice and gesture ordering through a machine requires I make another leap. It's not just about acquiring the right technology. I may need to simplify my menu, as well as think about which kinds of visual, conversational, and gestural cues make sense for my brand. Whether you're making pizza or something else equally addictive, these are the things you'll be thinking about as invisible interfaces become part of daily life. 













Published on: Apr 13, 2016