Hiding in Plain Sight: When Tech Stops Being Annoying

When you’re out at a restaurant enjoying a nice meal, your server is pretty crucial. You want them to be ready to tell you about the specifics of their steak, but only if you haven’t already decided to order the chicken. You want to ask them a question whenever you have one, but you would prefer they weren’t sitting at the table with you. A great server is ready when you need them, and invisible when you don’t.

This is exactly what I like about wearable technology.

Let me explain. Wearables allow exciting new technologies to passively and seamlessly integrate into our lives. A pocket that constantly vibrates is not a natural part of our day-to-day life. Wearables enable tech to settle into the background while still providing accessible functionality.

Why hide it?

If our tech can operate in the background it enables it to be relevant in more specific contexts. A friend of mine has been working hard to get in shape. Part of his regiment is hiking, so he has been using an app that tracks elevation during his hikes. The thing is, an app requires a phone. This means he has to drag his phone with him. No one wants a phone swinging around in their pocket while hiking and no one wants to be rocking a belt clip like they’re a dad in 1997, so that’s where wearables can come in. A wearable device can gather all the same information and then sync later.

On top of that, the wearable doesn’t have to be constantly telling you whenever you get an email. Even smart watches can help diminish those type of interruptions. It may be on your wrist all the time, but what’s more disruptive? A quick swipe of the wrist to silence a phone call or bumbling around pulling your mini-computer out of your pocket?

Taking on the wearable mission in non-wearables

If the ability to fade into the background and apply to specific contexts make wearables so great, how can we apply that goal to the rest of the digital ecosystem? There are products out there making progress in this field. One of the most notable is Google Now cards. Swipe up from the bottom of your Google Search app and you will be treated with contextually relevant information based on your location, routine, and more. If it’s 5:00 on a weekday Google is ready with information on how traffic will affect your drive home. If the Canucks are playing, Google is ready to give you an update on the game. No need to ask, Google has that information waiting for you. This type of contextual and localized information gives Invoke the ability to provide people with marketing content at the exact time and place in which they are most likely to appreciate it. Just as long as nobody gets too pushy.

Sounds creepy. Is it creepy?

This kind of routine tracking and targeting can come across very creepy if it isn’t properly utilized. It is exactly why we need to be careful and thoughtful when implementing this type of technology. First and foremost, explicit permission is necessary, but be sure to only ask for specific access when it becomes relevant. If a user is connecting to an app through Facebook, don’t ask for access to everything the instant they install your app. It’s intimidating. Wait until they want to use the function that requires the app to access your location services before you ask for access. At that point they will see the benefit.

This is key: you have to offer a benefit. People will be hesitant to offer up any piece of information if they can’t see how it will benefit them.

Even once you have permissions, play it cool. There is a way to be creepy, and a way to not be creepy. Anybody can Google or Facebook somebody’s name before they go on a date with them, but that doesn’t mean your first question should be “what was it like graduating from Kitsilano Secondary School in 2002?” Instead you think about your friend that went to that school and if it comes up in the conversation you’re ready to talk about your friend. The same thing goes for technology integration.

You need to be the waiter. Use the information when it’s relevant and not any sooner. That’s the aspiration in our work. Be there when they need us, and back off when they don’t.

Feature image courtesy of _Bunn_.