Think about life today. You wake up and check your phone, swiping through apps and typing on a digital keyboard to send messages via text. At work, you sit at your computer screen, using your keyboard and mouse. The list goes on. Technology has been woven into the fabric of everyday life to a point where we couldn’t imagine life without it – but if we don’t manually engage with it (via touchscreen, mouse, or keyword), it can’t work for us.
Technology has consistently found ways to redefine how we live, enabling us in new ways and always seeking new opportunities to provide more or better services and experiences. We’ve seen telephones jump into our pockets. Computers travel with us. Our virtual assistants respond to our voices.
Today, though, customers crave experiences that are more intuitive and natural, leading technology to its next big step: ambient computing.
Ambient computing involves a combination of hyperconnected technologies – including sensors (IoT technology devices), wearables, and algorithms – that blend physical, virtual and electronic environments to create seamless, customer-focused experiences across devices and interactions channels.
The result is what Gartner refers to as “people-centric smart spaces” or “ambient user experiences.” Essentially, technology works in the background, observing your actions and anticipating your needs to accommodate you in real time without you interacting with it directly.
One of the best real-world examples of this technology shift at play is Amazon Go – a store where you walk in, scan your phone, collect whatever you want, and walk out. Everything else happens automatically. The store knows what you pick up (and put back). There’s no checkout system. When you leave the store, your Amazon account is charged, and you receive a digital receipt. There’s no waiting, no cashier, no interface.
This example not only illustrates ambient computing technology in a tangible, real-world way, but it also shines a light on a variety of paradigm shifts that are on the horizon. And every industry would be wise to take note.
The shift from physical interfaces to invisible interfaces
One hallmark of today’s technological advancements is the physical interface. Phones and computers have screens. Drive-throughs have screens. Grocery stores have screens at checkout. And now many restaurants have swapped out physical menus for QR codes so customers can view them on their personal devices.
Screens, of course, are just one example of a physical interface, but they’re common and relatable. Ambient computing stands to change this, though.
In the future, you will no longer need to interact with technology using a mouse, keyboard, and touch. Imagine walking into the airport and receiving a personalized experience. Rather than scanning flight logs to see if your flight is delayed, the airport recognizes when you enter the terminal and provides a flight update directly to your wireless earbuds unprompted.
This concept involves the confluence of different technologies that already exist such as IoT technology sensors, virtual assistants, artificial intelligence, 5G, and Edge computing. Eventually, this technology shift will see the mouse, keyboard, and screen make way for voice controls, haptic feedback, visual cues, and gestures.
Consumers of the future will spend less time staring at screens and more time in the moment, while technology handles the heavy lifting automatically.
The shift from technology to people
Every year, a handful of events have people waiting with bated breath -- events where we learn what the new year means for technology shifts. They introduce sleeker, faster smartphones as well as new gaming systems, next-gen vehicles, and other technological advancements.
For years, we’ve focused on technology. How is it evolving? What can it do now that it couldn’t previously? How is it more accessible?
Looking forward, though, we’ll see this focus shift from technology to people.
Ambient computing involves putting technology to work in the background, and for that technology to succeed, it must understand people. We will see manufacturers shift from placing stronger technology in the hands of consumers to equipping spaces with stronger technology, making it possible to create more seamless contextual experiences.
This technology shift is fundamental because up to this point, consumers have been conditioned to want better, stronger technology in their palms. Moving forward, though, consumers will begin to crave experiences where they can move about their day without even realizing how technology is accommodating them.
The shift from the “what” to the “why”
Your friend has a baby. You go online and buy a gift. Now, you’re receiving product suggestions for cribs. We've all experienced this.
Retailers and other businesses have taken steps to not only improve their sales but also to create more impactful experiences for customers. Technology hasn’t always been able to deliver on intentions accurately. Even today, many suggestions are based on actions: what pages did you visit or what items did you purchase? Moving forward, the focus will shift from the “what” to the “why,” creating a fundamental change in context.
As technology gets smarter and ambient spaces collect more data, product and service providers will have the unique opportunity to understand why customers make specific choices. And by understanding these motivations, businesses can serve more meaningful suggestions.
While these shifts sound great, the catch is that gaining insights into the “whys” that fuel customer choices means businesses must learn how to integrate and leverage ambient computing technology - and that’s no simple task.
The shift from technology-literate people to people-literate technology
Technology advances quickly, and those who can’t keep up are left behind. Think about it: There’s probably someone in your life who can’t use a smartphone or write an email. Up until now, advancing technology has created learning curves that isolate a cross-section of consumers.
Ambient computing technology will reverse this principle. While technology favors technology-literate people currently, we will begin seeing people-literate technology.
People-literate technology will not only create seamless interactions but also break down today’s commonplace barriers. The intent is for anyone to enter a space powered by ambient computing and engage in meaningful ways.
Consider the Amazon Go example. Everyone knows how to shop. It’s a perfect illustration for how ambient computing technology can empower people rather than penalize them for not being technology-literate.
So, what does this mean for your business?
Ambient computing and the technology powering it stand to fundamentally change how businesses offer both products and services across every industry, from retail and travel to banking and more. What remains to be seen is how these changes will materialize.
For the first time (possibly ever), the focus isn’t on adoption -- it’s on accommodation. Businesses must meet customers on their terms and deliver what they want.
There’s no simple checklist or formula to help businesses navigate this exciting new concept, but the concept is simple: Focus on interpreting what customers want, versus influencing them to take an action, and think through the experiences you’re creating. They should be seamless, empowering, and rewarding.
Not sure where to start? Thanks to our deep roots in technology, processes, and consulting, Wipro has the expert knowledge and industry insights needed to help businesses innovate and adopt technology in new, consumer-focused ways. We’re positioned to help you take on the future so you can sit at the industry’s forefront, leading the charge for your competitors.
Ultimately, technology is headed in a direction that will shift today’s technology and consumer paradigms. We’ll see society move from being invested in technology to a space where technology is invested in society.
Will it help us look up from our screens and engage with the world around us? Time will tell.
In the meantime, businesses must prepare and innovate accordingly. If you’re looking for a partner to accompany you, contact Wipro today to learn how we can take your customer experiences to the “ambient” level.
As a Technology Futurist, Nagendra works on mega technology trends that will drive the future of technology in this decade. He likes working on engagements that challenge the status quo and inspire him to think, identify, and create new business opportunities for Wipro.
Nagendra’s expertise lies in disruptive innovation models, growth strategy, engagement strategies, and new age businesses with a broader focus on “digitizing the physical world.”