There was a time when phones were the size of bricks and could do nothing but make a simple phone call. Once, televisions were black and white, and used Cathode Ray Tube technology to display the images, resulting in them being roughly thirty over times in thickness than they are now. Technology has improved so much over the years, and in this article, we examine how advances in technology have and will allow for products to be shaped and built around us, and designed around the behaviour and lifestyles of human beings.
Shiv’s six year old brother recently asked him to turn on the computer for him and bring him to a website to play some games. When Shiv handed him the mouse to use, he was astounded to find out that he did not know how to use a mouse. He had to teach his brother, and his brother did figure it out quickly, but Shiv noticed that it definitely felt awkward for him to be using a mouse, or even a track-pad, to control the cursor.
For his brother, born in an era of touch screens (even Windows 8.1 is geared towards touch), touch-based interactions are natural, not just because they are what he is growing up with, but because it removes an added layer of complexity that was there due to the limitations of older technology, not because it was actually friendly to use it. It is simply not natural for us to control an object on the screen to touch another object on the screen. Why do that, when with touch screens, you simply touch the desired portion of the screen?
This is a good example of how technologies are becoming more and more user friendly. Hell, I’ve even seen videos of cats playing Fruit Ninja on an iPad.
Televisions now, are also starting to become curved, which I personally feel is impressive. And not as useless as they seem to be. I’ve heard people, myself included, say that curved televisions are stupid. But when I went to the LG G Flex media event, I saw a curved television by LG, and I can tell you that it isn’t as useless as you might imagine. Soon after, I played an FPS video game on my computer, and realised that when people’s faces were “at the edge of my vision”, so to speak (at the edge of the screen), they were stretched.
This is because our eyes have a stereoscopic field of vision, and technically, the rectangular and well, not curved displays you see today are unnatural to us. So, if we had curved televisions and curved displays, the technology would be better suited to us, and how we look at things. The faces at the sides of my vision in my game, for example, would always be proportionate, not stretched, so that we don’t have to have the illusion of how we look at things, but the real thing.
There is a key difference between the innovations of yesterday, and that of today. Yesterday, such technologies were created, laying the foundations of what would be decades of further innovation. Today, they are being perfected and refined from the inchoate and rudimentary debuts of the technology. Now, every detail is being ironed out to make such technologies far better than what was ever possible last time, because now, it’s not really a feature race anymore. Frankly, we have tons of features. Now, it’s all about design. Now, it’s all about the user, the UX (user experience) and how well the technologies are integrated into our lives, how easy to use they are, and most importantly, how natural they are. It is, of course, indubitable that technology is far from natural, but our interactions with them have to be natural to provide for a seamless and enjoyable user experience.
Enter smart control, which is one of the areas driving this trend in making technologies more natural to us humans. Not only is technology being increasingly shaped around humans, with the advent of the internet and its incredible versatility, there are now “smart devices” which offer internet access and help automate tasks for us, or make tasks simpler, easier, or more convenient.
One example is the Nest Thermostat. It’s a learning thermostat, programs itself, and can be controlled from your smartphone. It knows when you are out of the house, and when that happens, it conserves energy because cooling or heating your home when you aren’t around is useless. It learns your behavior and patterns whenever you configure it, so it knows when to turn the heat up or down based on the time. That’s not just cool. It’s incredibly useful. It’s shaped around how we behave, and allows us to minimize our interaction with it. When you have to interact with it, it’s also much easier. No need to mash the up or down button, just rotate the ring around it, to select the desired temperature.
At CES 2013, LG made a significant announcement with regard to expanding its Smart Control technologies within its HE products. Said Scott Jung, Managing Director, LG Electronics Singapore:
The modern and hectic lifestyle has made us more reliant on electronic gadgets, hence LG designed mobile communication products that will not only satisfy customer’s needs while on the move but also the interconnectivity within the gadget eco-system.
The news included an overall refinement of the Smart TV control system which connects directly to the internet as well as an innovative reboot of the Magic Remote product for its Smart TV lineup.
LG’s key Smart TV built-in features include Tag On and Second Screen, both of which provide easier content sharing with mobile devices. Tapping a bundled Tag On sticker with a smartphone compatible with NFC and Miracast technologies will run an app installed on the phone. This wirelessly pulls broadcast programs from the TV and for those with LG’s G Series smartphones, the Tag On feature allows content to be pushed with the Tag On function through a screen mirroring function built into the TV.
The redesigned Magic Remote device adopts enhanced language recognition capabilities that makes executing commands simple, natural, interactive and conversational thus complementing other control options — voice, gesture, point, and wheel — to represent a universal remote built around human senses. With the free LG TV Remote app for Android and iOS devices, smartphones and tablets can be used to control LG Smart TVs via a Wi-Fi connection.
Today, technology has improved to the point where now features are more about comfort and being integrated into our lives better and more automatic. We can do a lot now, and we are currently refining to make it more and more perfect in a way.
Mentioned above, the G Flex is one of these examples.
Antoni Gaudi, eminent Spanish architect, once observed that “the straight line belongs to man, the curve to God.” The G Flex certainly seems to have been developed with that observation in mind. Ever since the invention of the mobile phone, the majority of them have been rectangular slabs, with the modern smartphones simply introducing curved corners. LG has taken a different step entirely by curving the whole device itself around the horizontal axis.
While Samsung did a similar thing with the Galaxy Round, it was not very useful. It curve was in the wrong direction. When you watch a video in landscape you get none of the benefits of how curved screens are more suited to our eyes, because it is simply curved the wrong way. The revolutionary curve on the G Flex on the other hand, means that the 6 inch gulf between the corners of the display seems much smaller, the phone fits your face more comfortably when taking a call, and your personal entertainment experience has been vastly improved (refer above for an explanation of how it fits our stereoscopic field of view better). Not only that, LG has also concentrated on a very human aspect of handling your new $1000 smartphone – the fact that most of us will drop it, or accidentally scratch it.
The LG G Flex has introduced a feature than I can truly describe as life-saving. Just as Sony has done by waterproofing many of their devices, LG’s feature ensures that our clumsiness will not permanently disfigure our precious smartphones. This feature means that small scratches received from accidentally dropping your device on a hard surface will disappear in the matter of minutes, and you need not worry if you sit on your phone by accident – it will just flatten itself and spring back to its curved shape once pressure is relieved. Just make sure you don’t apply more than 32 kg of weight.
LG’s current flagship also introduced a host of features that served to improve convenience, ease of use and intuitiveness in their UI. The LG G G2 showcases the possibilities made available through significant enhancements to the UX with powerful and intuitive features such as Answer Me and Guest Mode. Via the convenient Answer Me function, the LG G2 automatically lowers the ringtone and answers incoming calls when the phone is raised to the user’s ear. Guest Mode enables users to protect their privacy by displaying only pre-selected apps when guests access the phone with a secondary unlock pattern.
Many years ago, technological innovations were rarely spurred due to a need to improve user experience. That has already changed today. As seen in LG’s Smart Technology evolution, most of the new features serve to improve the user experience, rather than something that is just there for the sake of being there.
The LG Smart Appliances with THINQ Technology perfectly demonstrates this. This feature allows home owners to connect their LG refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, dryers and robotic vacuum cleaner together wirelessly into one unified home appliance Smart Grid, and enable the owner to control their appliances from the comfort of their smartphone or computers. This not only saves time, energy and expenses, but also help to enrich the consumers’ lives.
This Smart Grid can monitor and control all the connect LG appliances, ensuring that they run at optimal efficiency. The Smart Diagnosis system will detect when an appliance goes wrong, and inform the owner via their smartphone displays. Meanwhile, this information is also conveyed to the LG repair centre, allowing them to diagnose the appliance and schedule the maintenance.
All of these technologies are set to become the face of the next generation of technology in our lives. They are here, but it will take a while before people start having to replace all their machines and update them to the latest and greatest. But when we do, we will be living in a world of absolute convenience, with technologies shaped to fit our every need, being automatic, simple and both enjoyable and easy to use for the average consumer.
As Arthur C Clarke, a British science fiction writer, once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Smart technology is growing to embody the ideal behind this quote, and one day, I hope that we will live in a world full not of technology, but of magic.