One aspect of always-on is power conservation, being able to respond to events without having a device constantly in full-power mode. This month, the announcement of the Amazon Fire Phone and details revealed about the Google Android Wear SDK suggest another important dimension: the competitive advantage of rapid, frictionless engagement.
In another forum where the discussion was on the IoT as an enabler for customer relationship management (CRM), I suggested the Fire Phone was a huge development. An engineer quickly piped in with a counter, saying the Fire Phone didn’t seem all that unique because the Flow app for Android and iOS has the same object recognition technology and the same connection to Amazon. True, but not the entire picture. For some warped reason, this reminded me of the Brad Pitt line in “Inglourious Basterds”:
“You know, fightin’ in a basement offers a lot of difficulties.
Number one bein’: you’re fightin’ in a basement!”
Translation: when facing a strategic disadvantage, even great tactics may not improve the situation much, if at all. Change the strategy to your advantage. Amazon has launched a me-too high-end smartphone, apart from two strategy-busting features: “dynamic perspective” using 4 front-facing cameras to adjust the display (let’s save that for some other time); and the Firefly capability, which is much deeper than it seems at a glance.
If there is any company that understands e-commerce, it’s Amazon. They have spent countless person hours honing their web experience to minimize friction. The fewer clicks and less waiting in between steps, the more likely a person is to finish whatever action it is they are trying to do. Amazon has a huge amount of experience in engaging, completing, and fulfilling online orders.
Firefly is Amazon’s new, improved, and integrated version of Flow – technology that recognizes objects, text, and audio quickly, and links it back to “information” which is often in the form of an Amazon page with a buy button. That’s the first step: preloading the app as shipped. I’d be willing to bet many loyal Amazon customers aren’t even aware of Flow.
The bigger news is tight integration. Firefly is activated with one button on the side of the Fire Phone, which brings up the cameras, microphones, and app for recognition in about 1 second. Compare that to the non-integrated app experience: load the app if you don’t have it, turn the display on, find the app icon, launch it, and wait for it to hook to the cloud. Now take the cloud and third-party app developers like StubHub to the next step: see or hear some content, find out how and where to engage further, maybe even using the dynamic perspective to visualize where you want to go.
A similar concept is at work in Android Wear. Let’s assume for a second you’ve made the decision to actually wear a smartwatch or similar device that has a display. One of its key features is notifications from a paired smartphone. The timeline is very similar to what we described above: instead of hearing an alert, picking up a phone, powering it up, swiping the notification icon, and reading the message in the app, push notifications enable viewing the message in one glance when alerted. Steps removed, power saved, and even a possibility of voice response.
Android Wear also brings the concept of coupled apps, where an app downloaded on the smartphone automatically loads a component to the wearable. Apps that listen, like Shazam, could use the wearable microphone to capture the audio, waking the smartphone but not its display for the cloud connection. Many are projecting the next frontier for user interface is audio, in an ear-mounted wearable; the Audience purchase of Sensor Platforms raises new possibilities for sound as part of a sensor-fused experience.
Always-on technology, backed by ultra-low power DSP cores such as the homegrown Hexagon DSP core in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, or licensable IP such as the CEVA TeakLite-4 v2, can bring a device ready for audio or visual recognition tasks in a second. A new crop of SoCs with DSP-powered recognition capability is taking shape for smartphones and wearables, offering not just power savings but responsiveness and meaningful engagement.
Creating consumer behavior change starts with reducing friction. Just as teams in the earlier stages of web development worked hard to create intuitive interfaces and streamline clicks within the limits of browser and mouse technology, mobile and wearable development is now entering similar territory with more natural UX design elements. Whether Firefly translates into success for the Fire Phone and more shopping for Amazon, or whether opening up Android Wear tips the scales, remains to be seen. The thinking behind always-on has broader applications for wearable and IoT designers.