Game Changers: Technologies Driving the Digital Future

Posted by Theron Lalla, Associate Account Manager

As tablets and smartphones have started to illustrate, technology is playing a very big part in our Web (and search) habits. It has brought the Web from our homes and our jobs to our pockets and bookbags, to our commutes, our coffee breaks and—as Al Bundy would be excited to hear—even our bathroom breaks. It’s allowed the web to be integrated into our lives on an ever-increasing basis. We’re no longer online—we’re connected, 24/7/365. And integration, whether it becomes the next industry buzzword or not, is the primary end result of these latest tech developments.

The Players

There are four main technologies currently at play that will be or are already responsible for changing our Web habits. The first two are the ones we’ve already mentioned: tablets and smartphones. Tablets, as we’ve seen, have introduced a new category to the tech vertical, and like smartphones, the tech capabilities of these are continually expanding. I’m anything but an Apple fanboy, but I have to admit that Apple has shown that aesthetics and usability matter just as much (and sometimes more than) power and features. Additionally, FaceTime has taken a once futuristic concept (mobile, handheld, two-way video communications) and brought it into a new reality that most of us are taking for granted.

But let’s not forget about the other two technologies—Microsoft Surface and the XBox Kinect. After checking out the linked videos, you might think of the Surface as essentially a larger, non-mobile version of a tablet, but that would be a gross oversimplification. Like calling the iPad nothing more than a big iPod touch (which I’ve done to annoy my friends who ARE Apple fanboys) it ignores that a larger surface area means more viewable content, more on-screen usability, and in this case, not just multi-touch, but multi-user. Additionally, Microsoft Surface has the unique quality of integrating (there’s that word again) physical objects into a digital platform.

The killer app, in my opinion, though, will prove to be the Kinect. Originally codenamed Project Natal, it was shown to be a “Minority Report” style of controlling and navigating an OS. For those who were following the development of the project, I’m sure it was a surprise when Microsoft decided to release it as an entertainment and gaming device rather than a computing device. But this was sound strategy. Even with touchscreen desktops making their way into the market, so far we all continue to use computers the way we have for decades—click and type. If the Kinect had been introduced as a pure computing input device rather than a casual entertainment one, few would have made the transition, and the development and support of the technology would have suffered as a result. But by introducing it as an add-on to an existing piece of entertainment hardware, Microsoft is able to learn and iron out usability issues found in the more forgiving entertainment environment.

In a few years, after Microsoft has learned what they needed to from hours of use from a gaming environment, I expect we’ll  see the technology start to be integrated into standard computing, albeit in more subtle ways.  For example, I imagine typing and then lifting your fingers a few inches higher and gesturing (a swiping motion to transition to the next email, flicking your finger to close a window, etc.). Keeping the gesture area close to the keyboard would ensure that the transition between gesture and type is quick and seamless.

Input and Output

The way we interact with our tech will change as much as our tech interacts with us. The fact that we can now touch, carry, move, and share what we do on our devices means that the SERP will change. Imagine running a search on a Surface. Next to each of the results is a thumbnail image of the site, which you “flick” to a user across from you. The built-in Natal/Kinect technology tracks their face and eyes as focusing on one particular window, and expands the window. The site contains what they were looking for, so they say, “Call Customer Service,” and a video call opens up with a representative on the other end. Easy sharing, easy conversion. Everybody wins.

But if the above scenario was too far-fetched for you, then consider a less imaginative but equally likely scene from a not-so-distant future: You’re at a bookstore trying to decide on a lunch spot in the area. You pull up a map on a wall-mounted touchscreen and find a spot that was rated 4 stars on Yelp. You start walking over and your phone suddenly vibrates with a tweet alert—there’s a sale at a nearby store that most of your friends shop at. So you pick up some new jeans and then head to lunch. On the menu—which happens to be a tablet—you see that most people have given the restaurant’s signature burger a five star rating, so you order it and leave your own rating after eating.

While the SEM industry tends to classify Internet usage and advertising into stationary, mobile, and social, nothing in the above scenario fits neatly into just one category. The nearby lunch spot was stationary but it was based on your location and incorporated social, while the tablet menu and the tweet alert were both mobile and social. Everything was, to one degree or another, integrated.

So although we in the SEM industry tend to keep a sharp eye on the Web sites and platforms, let’s not forget that the hardware matters just as much as what we do with it. And the people and the way they use the hardware, matter most of all.

Performics wants to know: What do you think is a game-changing technology for search, and why? Leave your response in the comments below!

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