Mary Meeker points to a hands-free, zero-screen future

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Wouldn’t it be ironic if in our rush to adopt media technology, we all decided to ditch computer hardware and screens altogether?

It’s starting to happen. Several years ago Disney Research created a Touche interface that turns any surface into a digital input device. By tracking the vibrations you make when you sit on a coach, or tap on a tabletop, or even splash your hand in a bathtub, Touche would signal electronic devices to take action. Lie down on the sofa, and your living room lights would dim. No keyboard required.

We thought of that innovation recently reading Mary Meeker’s influential “2016 Internet Trends” report. Meeker, one of the top analysts in the first 1990s Internet boom, is now a consultant for the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, and her annual late-spring slide show on media trends is one of the most anticipated pieces of content in the marketing industry. This year’s report had some typical, predictable findings (mobile ad spend is still out of sync with mobile share of eyeballs!), but one intriguing new section on … hands-free device inputs.

Meeker expends several of her slides on voice-recognition trends: the use of technologies such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa to understand commands and respond with actions. Philips, for instance, now sells Hue “personal wireless lighting” bulbs that can be given individual names and controlled via voice, partnering with Siri on an iPhone. “Reading light, please dim” will now make your reading light dim. Home Depot sells Bluetooth wireless locks that open with a tap, no key required. Belkin offers¬†electrical outlets that turn on triggered by motion, so your coffee maker can boot up when you stroll into the kitchen each morning.

Meeker notes that this trend toward hands-free, screens-free user interfaces on electronic devices is rising fast, thanks to a few factors:

  • Voice accuracy is improving. Google’s voice systems now clear 91% accuracy in recognition of tens of thousands of words. What used to be difficult, getting a gadget to understand a voice command, is now easy.
  • Consumers are tired of the plethora of touch-screen-oriented apps. While the typical U.S. smartphone user has 37 apps on her phone, she uses only 3 of them — Facebook, the Chrome mobile web browser, and YouTube — 80% of the time.
  • Simple tasks, after all, don’t need keyboards.¬†Consumers are recognizing that voice just works better for short commands. 55% of voice searches are done while driving a car or “on the go,” with top commands including “navigate home,” “call Mom,” or “call Dad.” (Sadly, moms get twice as many calls from kids as dads, but that’s another story.)

The use of hands-free computing interfaces is rising fast; only 30% of U.S. consumers reported using voice commands with technology in 2013, while by 2015 that portion had jumped to 65%. With augmented vision devices such as Magic Leap soon replacing video displays, thanks to their ability to beam hi-def images of screens into the air like a Tony Stark Iron Man hologram, keyboards and computer monitors may become a thing of the past.

The irony of this rush to control the Internet of things via the air is some device-makers may put themselves out of business. When your couch controls your lights, and your TV screen floats in front of your augmented eyeglasses, will we need solid screens or keyboards at all?

One thought on “Mary Meeker points to a hands-free, zero-screen future

  1. Thought provoking as always Mr. Kunz! I think we live beyond the voice activation tech. Voice activation solves a problem, it simplifies a daily task, I’m grateful for that but we can extend it. My idea of the future is not what makes our life more simple, it’s what makes us happy which brings me to imagination. For example, my name is Tara so let’s say I like the movie “Gone with the wind”. Do you ever notice how movies are made to entertain and you watch them in the loneliest moments wishing you were the star. Ponder that. The future for me is when we can insert ourselves as the main character of any storyline in film or reality to experience it in our own environment. So yes, I’m thinking about Artificial Intelligence here and forms of VR cinematic experience but for deeper example, the way my AI secretary schedules meetings for my day and responds to my clients in email as if she is me, at this point, my AI secretary knows how I make decisions, my behaviors on the web, communication, she is most helpful and I love her/him/it like a human being. But what if we applied that tech to creating a movie with me as the main character in “Gone with the wind” so I could simply go home from a days work and unwind to my favorite story starring me as Scarlet O’Hara. This can be done in advancement of VR technology for cinematic experience. That’s the coolest thing about the future, how we can entertain ourselves with our own ego’s in play and yes, it will all be beamed to us Ben, no way is their desktop or keyboards, every story clip will display on every wall we walk pass day and night whether it’s 5th avenue buildings or walls in your apartment, the story will follow you and we’ll all be chipped to see what we want to see in any given moment. I think about this because when I look at how the internet of things began, at first it was to find information but then it became a way to be entertained so I think the next internet of things is VR application for self experience starring you and is beamed to you wherever you are in any moment. Ultimately entertaining our own imagination.

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