The result of today’s on-demand culture is the increasing expectations of consumers to always want more, exactly when they want it. And that means the User Interface (UI) is due for a complete revamp to better meet consumers’ desires. The story of Wendy Walker is just a taste of what the near future will look like for UI.
Meet Wendy Walker
Wendy Walker stands at her kitchen sink washing the morning’s breakfast dishes when she feels a subtle haptic vibration on her wrist. She looks up just in time to catch a glimpse through her window of a sleek, laptop-sized flying contraption whizzing away into the sky.
She opens the front door to find a small package with a blue and white “Amazon Rx” insignia stamped across the seal tape. She opens the box to reveal a colorful 20-day pill-pack with what appears to be a micro-circuit etched on the metal foil packaging. She presses her index finger into a small circle on the corner of the pack, then plucks out a pill with imperceptible pressure. Suddenly she feels another haptic vibration on her wrist, and a melodic beep is heard from somewhere in the room.
“Andrew, show caller on refrigerator,” she says as she faces the appliance where the screen blinks on, revealing the static photo of a man in his early 50s identified as “Dr. George Truman.” In a pleasant voice, the refrigerator announces the caller: “Wendy, it’s Dr. Truman on a video call. Would you like to answer?”
“Andrew, accept call. With audio and video. Camera on.”
The static photo on the screen is replaced by the jovial, animated face of Dr. Truman who smiles when he spots Wendy.
“Hi Wendy, I just got the notice you received your prescription. I wanted to see if you had any questions. I saw you reviewed the instructions, but people often overlook the part about eating first. Had breakfast already?”
“Just finished those tasty egg white substitutes,” says Wendy with a hint of sarcasm.
“Good. Yeah, I know—hope you didn’t mind that too much. That’s probably the most dramatic change you’ll notice in the diet plan, I hope.” He then switches focus back to the pressing matter at hand. “So, I’ll be keeping an eye on all your biometrics, just make sure you keep the ‘Share’ settings open for the rest of the week. I’ll call tomorrow when you’re walking Oliver. Oh, and try to keep the stress in check.”
“Thanks, doctor. I will.”
The screen flashes off and Wendy turns her attention back to the pill in her hand. She holds it up in the air, making sure a tiny camera on the refrigerator can see it, then pops it in her mouth, chasing it with what’s left of her espresso as she calls out: “Andrew, taking med.” A checkmark appears on the refrigerator screen, showing the name of the medication, dosage, and time. Andrew’s cheerful voice confirms it captured everything.
A Few Hours Earlier
At 6:30 that morning, Wendy woke to a haptic alarm gently vibrating on her wristband. As she struggled to lift her tired body out of bed, the disembodied voice belonging to Andrew, the artificially intelligent concierge of her Home & Health Companion system, let her know that in the middle of the night her blood pressure had spiked and that it had made an adjustment to the bed’s position, slightly elevating Wendy’s legs to reduce possible swelling and improve circulation. A few numbers suddenly appear on the wall seemingly projected from nowhere. They show a few key vitals, along with a timeline of Wendy’s restless sleep, 5 hours and 33 minutes of jagged spikes marked by multiple red circles.
“Is it okay to Share data with Health Team?” Andrew asks Wendy.
Wendy’s “Share Settings” are set to “Check First” by default, so she’s obligated to approve any form of third-party data share, including with her Health Team—which is comprised of various experts from around the country that she handpicked a few months back when she customized her new health plan. She responds “Yes,” just as she becomes aware of loud scratching on the bedroom door.
A few minutes later she walks into the kitchen with Oliver, a bouncing Chihuahua nipping excitedly at her heels. She smiles as she’s greeted by a freshly brewed double-espresso made from the Espressomatic 4500 and grabs a leash as she leads Oliver out the door.
Two minutes into her walk she feels a haptic tap on her wrist. She slips an earpiece into one ear while issuing a voice command: “Answer call.”
“Hi Wendy, good morning. Dr. Truman here. How are you feeling?”
“Yeah, well. I’m sure you know. Tired.”
“The sleep logs from the past few nights look like seismographs during earthquakes. Can I get a live feed to your Biosystem?”
“Sure. Andrew, Authorize Biosystem Share for Dr. Truman,” Wendy commands her invisible companion.
“Alright, just got it. Let’s see what’s going on,” the doctor says, as he takes a moment to review her data. “Walking the dog, I see.”
“Sixty-five days in a row. That’s terrific. Okay, heart rate looks good. Blood oxygen, good. I do see a little more sluggishness in your pace than normal. And yeah, blood pressure is still a little high, higher than we’d like to see it. Mind if I check your diet?”
“Not at all. Andrew, authorize Diet Share.”
After a few moments of silence, Dr. Truman comments on the new data he’s just received: “Hmm, skipping meals, and eating burgers, fries, chips…”
“Yeah, lots going on at work.”
“Alright, listen. I’ve got something I want you to take for the next two weeks, and I’m also going to push out some meal plans to get your diet back on track, okay?”
“And one more thing, I’d like you to add another 10 minutes to your walk. At least for the next few weeks. Every little bit helps.”
By the time Wendy gets home 25 minutes later, a small bag awaits her at the front door filled with warm oatmeal, scrambled egg whites on wheat toast, and a side of fruit—per doctor’s orders. And by the time she’s done eating, the medication her doctor prescribed is delivered by drone to her doorstep, so now she can immediately get started on her new therapy.
The biometric tamper-sensor on the package alerts the doctor that she has received the meds, giving him a chance to check in to make sure she had read or listened to the “instructions of use” that had been sent to Andrew, who has made it available to her on every connected device in her H&H Companion system. She doesn’t mind the nagging, because each check-point she enables in the system reduces the cost of her health plan.
The World Today
The story of Wendy Walker is not science fiction. The technologies and products described in her narrative already exist today. What does not exist is a single, user-friendly system that seamlessly integrates all of these services. Whether it’s Apple, Amazon, Google, or some yet to be created company that will accomplish this feat is not the point—the point is that a vision of the future of healthcare comprised of passive sensors continuously monitoring and streaming billions of personal health data feeds from individuals to cloud services, where they are analyzed by increasingly sophisticated algorithms in order to provide real-time recommendations, is an inevitability.
The reason it is inevitable has nothing to do with Moore’s law on the exponential growth of computing power—that is simply what makes this all possible. What makes this all inevitable is driven by a completely different force, far more powerful than any technology: The changing expectations of consumers.
As technology makes it possible for humans to have more things, faster, they inevitably fill their time with more and more things. The result is not what you’d expect—people do not find themselves more content or satisfied. On the contrary, they simply become more painfully aware of all the things they could have, but can’t, because there simply isn’t enough time.
So what do humans do to overcome this problem? They embrace every new product and technology that allows them to make more efficient use of their time—whether it’s time-shifting a television show, shortening the wait time for a ride, or accelerating the delivery time of a meal. Inevitably, products and services that don’t improve the “time equation” are bound to lose—because expectations have become such that people define “better” by how much it enables them to have “more.” In other words, it all comes down to time, the most precious resource of all.
So, what does this have to do with Wendy and the future of the User Interface? Everything. Because the story of Wendy Walker is not a story about the smart home, wearables, or on-demand health services—it is a story about the greatest revolution in technology since the invention of the computer: The next generation User Experience, or UX 2.0.
In UX 2.0, we won’t be typing, swiping, or tapping—we will simply be walking, talking, and living. We won’t need to log into websites to order products or consume services. What we want will be delivered to us exactly when we need it—sometimes before we even know we do. That’s because our bodies will be connected to the cloud through sensors, and the infinite streams of data we generate will be processed with computing power we can’t even fathom. We will be able to proactively make decisions to prevent diseases—rather than spend the better parts of our later lives fighting them.
This “invisible interface” will allow us to live in the present, with our eyes looking up, not down at a screen—because we will be able to interact with our virtual world in the same way we interact with our real world. But UX 2.0 will also give us the gift of more time in our future—because we’ll be making smart decisions in the present that will enable us to live longer and healthier lives for years to come.
Yes, the User Experience revolution is upon us. The first casualty: The User Interface as we know it. It will not be missed.