IoT: Smart Connected Planet

Why ‘Contexual’ Is the New ‘Search’ Living Within the Internet of Things

PSFK Labs iQ Content Partner

The days of a standard user experience are over, and there’s no need to adjust the settings. 

Do you know what the word foudroyant means? What if you had read that a customer’s foudroyant display of anger had shocked the cashier as though she’d been struck by lightning? Even without a dictionary, you can begin to piece together clues based on information around it.

We use context clues in reading, and in our daily lives, to suss out the meaning of things that we’re unfamiliar with. In the Internet of Things, smart objects are reading between the lines of our user data to deliver relevant information or experiences tailored to the time of day, the people we’re with, the places we go and our current activities.

It could be directions for the quickest way to a new location, or restaurant recommendations that appear when your spouse mentions that they’d like Vietnamese for dinner tonight. These contextual experiences are streamlining the way that we interact with our devices by learning the apps and actions we would normally use and take in a particular situation, and simply giving us the end result before we even ask.

Many people have compared smartphones to Swiss Army Knives. With your digital multi-tool you can wake up right on time, find the quickest routes to work and even have some breakfast and coffee waiting on your desk before you walk through the door. But each added ability also adds to the crowd of icons which can clutter up your screen and make it so your precious moment has already passed by the time you find your camera app.

Cover is a special sort of app, then. This utility for Android smartphones learns where and when certain apps are most commonly used, and changes the selection on your lock screen based on that info.

So in the morning you might see the email, weather and news apps, where at work the Dropbox, Evernote and calendar icons would make the most sense. There’s even a peek feature that lets you access those apps without unlocking your phone.

There’s more to this contextual experience than just making life easier by reducing the number of taps needed to complete a task. What this technology is doing is creating a baseline for human functionality. The simpler it becomes for us to be productive, the more productive we are able to become. As quoted by the New York Times, Prerna Gupta, chief product officer for Smule, explains:

“Tracking how our bodies are responding throughout the day could allow you to tailor your life according to what’s happening to your body throughout the day. When we are wearing five different computers and they can all talk to each other, that sort of input information will cause an exponential increase” in what humans can do.

Emu is essentially a texting app for iOS, but so much more useful. By giving it access to your calendar and location, Emu is able to provide assistance within a conversation. If somebody invites you to lunch next week, a little calendar pops up so that you can see your appointments without switching apps.

If they ask you to dinner and a movie, the app will search the web for the restaurant as well as current showtimes. The only drawback is that each participant needs to have the app installed. Though with mentions of inter-app compatibility for upcoming iOS versions, the day might not be too far off when texts make as much use of your digital multi-tools as you do.

To bring this contextual experience into the physical world, Prophets, a digital marketing and communication strategy firm, decided to create an interactive experience within the Rubens House in Antwerp, Belgium. By using iBeacon technology in key points around the museum, visitors are invited to use their tablets or phones to connect with artwork and exhibits in a whole new way.

At first the Beacons serve as a guide through the different rooms, and then showcase relevant information as you approach a specific piece. Prophets and Musea Antwerpen are currently discussing the potential for similar applications in all of Antwerps museums. For a closer look at what that would look like, check out the video below which describes the Rubens House project:

The potential applications for contextual experiences like these are endless. Each year, billions of objects and devices are being connected to the Internet of Things. With each one comes the opportunity to define a new context.

It could be as simple as recipes displayed on your fridge based on what’s inside, or as complex as the coordination of systems in your office, car and home as you leave work for the day. Who you are, how you live your life and what you want is what this technology is all about. Best of all, you don’t even have to ask.

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