Utility of the future
If there’s one thing that generates clicks, it’s a bit of hyperbole. When given a new exciting platform or brand new bit of tech, people fall over themselves to shoehorn it into an article about it being the next big thing or how it’s sure to be doomed.
VR is the current ruler of hyperbole. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to give everyone a £500 Oculus Rift (along with a £300 graphics card to power it) but that’s simply not the reality of where we are today.
This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but the external world of technology and the world of internal communications are two completely different animals. Of course, there’s going to be some crossover, we’re all consumers after all, but consumer technology moves at lightning pace next to internal comms. How many IC teams are currently testing their apps to take advantage of ARKit in iOS 11, for example?
Consumer decisions are driven by aspiration, whether consciously or subconsciously. iPhones, for example, are an affordable luxury, where average consumers can buy the exact same iPhone that billionaires can buy. There’s a huge market of avid and actively engaged consumers, and that drives innovation in the external market.
New technology does sometimes influence internal communications, but not with the same frequency that it influences the consumer market. Recent surveys show that IC practitioners are having increased success by using video as a key channel, where just a few years ago video wasn’t widely used, for a number of technological and infrastructure related reasons. I’m still looking forward to the day when I’m regularly producing videos in 4K for clients though.
For tech to truly embed, however, it needs to tick three boxes:
Is it seamless?
No matter what technology or code is running in the backend, the experience is the same or enhanced, without compromising workflow.
Is it Integrated?
There are some great examples of VR headsets being used to display 360degrees video footage in experiential settings, where they’re heavily integrated into the experience. But, unless headsets are an integrated part of your workflow, “Here I need you to engage with a speech from our CEO, please put this headset on” probably won’t cut it.
Does it evoke an emotional response?
Users need to feel something – empowerment, joy, wonderment – technology can achieve all those things, but only when it’s done well.
Machine Learning in iOS 11 (currently in beta) ticks all these boxes. Not a lot has been written about the potential impact of machine learning, and what little has been written is often wide off the mark and very high-level. Machine learning and artificial intelligence might sound like something from a sci-fi movie, but it’s very real, and coming to a smartphone near you this year. When iOS 11 ships in Autumn 2017, it will include a machine learning framework that developers can take advantage of with just a few lines of code.
ML is seamless, integrated and will evoke an emotional response in users. It allows, amongst other things, the photos app to more accurately compile new albums based on the content of your photos (like all the photos of your dog), and not just based on the date and location they were taken. It allows for more natural-language commands to Siri too, such as ‘show me all the images I took at my sister’s wedding’.
VR on the other hand is very different, and I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it isn’t going to be the next big channel for IC. VR headsets do not a virtual-reality experience make. VR is being used as a bit of a catch-all term for the use of cheap, passive headsets with a couple of glass lenses in them, rather than actual Virtual Reality headsets that display a virtual, computer-generated environment on the built-in screens. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some exciting stuff happening with VR phone apps and cheap, passive VR headsets in the consumer world, but they don’t create a seamless or integrated experience for colleagues in the world of IC.
So the moral of the story is this – take those hyperbolic headlines with a pinch of salt, don’t try to apply every piece of consumer tech to internal communications and hope for the same results, and make sure that new channels are seamless, integrated and evoke an emotional response.