Internet of Things

Internet of Things: It's a Kind of Magic

By Jeff LeBlanc

This year’s Qt World Summit has come and gone, and a good time was had by all. I had the opportunity to give a well-attended talk on user experience (UX) design tips for software developers. It was great to see that so many developers are interested in how users view software, and aren’t focused solely on the internals.  

While my talk drew a nice crowd, I have to say that it was probably due to the amazing keynote presentation the night before. Josh Clark, a principal at Big Medium, gave a riveting talk — Magical UX and the Internet of Things — that really fired up the crowd around the topic of UX. It was absolutely one of the best presentations I’ve heard this year.

The Influence of Fables on UX

In previous blogs I’ve written about how Hollywood and the movies we see shape people’s expectations of technology. I know I’ve wanted my own personal J.A.R.V.I.S. system since I saw the first Iron Man movie — a system that is getting closer to attainable as Amazon expands its Echo ecosystem.  

What was fascinating about Josh’s presentation is that he’s not looking to movies to predict the future of user interface. Rather, he’s looking to centuries of tales and fables for inspiration to describe how we should be interacting with the new world of technology.

Not so much Tony Stark as Merlin, or at least Harry Potter.

Last summer, I wrote a post quoting Arthur C. Clarke, who said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Josh turned that statement on its head, prompting us to think about how technology can influence the world around us in “magical” ways.  

The Magic of IoT

I walk into my living room and speak a few words. The room is suddenly awash in light. I gesture with a long, thin object and the glass plate on the wall shows images from faraway lands.

Magic? Or the Internet of Things (IoT)?

In the first book of the Harry Potter series, young Harry sits in a great hall and the Sorting Hat is placed on his head. The hat speaks aloud what it can detect about Harry and makes a recommendation for his future.

Magic item or wearable?  

If you think that comparison is far fetched, consider what insurance companies want to do with health data that can be collected from your FitBit or Apple watch.

I won’t spoil any more of Josh’s talk, except to say that to me it was the highlight of the show. In a room full of technologists, this man spoke of bringing magic into the world, of using new technologies to enhance the quality of life for everyone.

Case in point: the sensors and connectivity that the IoT is bringing can totally change the lives of people afflicted with a wide range of disabilities — from motor impairments to hearing or vision loss — allowing them to achieve levels of independence that those of us without affliction take for granted.

That is a kind of magic.