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It's OK to be sceptical

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It's OK to be sceptical

Marketeers are getting good at faking user-experiences - especially for technology that doesn’t exist yet, or can’t be shown in its intended context. And the reality is, they have to fake it. It’s like food porn - they can’t get you to taste the food, so they have to make it look tasty. And they do it by using all of the tricks in the book. This isn’t just any technology, this is M&S technology! #nomnom

At the start of the year, Microsoft announced their new Hololens technology with a lavish and incredible marketing video that suggested that, within the next few years, wed all be throwing our laptops away and donning their experimental VR headset to interact and work within the world around us. Like many people, I was pretty much blown away by this promo video. If accurate, this was going to change everything. Not since the introduction of the mouse and the desktop has there been such a radical shift in our attitude towards how we interact with a computer.

If accurate. Thats the crux. Straight away, we all thought, is this really what its going to be like using this thing?

Journalists have used the new Hololens device and, although the experience probably isnt going to be quite as magical as the promo video promises, the general consensus is that Microsoft may have something here. A device that will seamlessly merge the real and virtual worlds maybe.

Microsoft have promised us amazing experiences before, via the medium of product user-experience films. Remember the original Kinect promotions? This was another ‘_WTF_’ moment at the time, but unfortunately it didnt live up to the expectations. It seemed that most gamers home environments turned out to be anything but the laboratory conditions that the Kinect was engineered for, and it just didnt seem to work. However, the technology behind the Kinect is sound and it is still available as an input device, favoured by engineers and digital artists. You will also find the core concepts of depth sensing in many of the latest cutting-edge mobile 3D scanners, and new VR headsets. So, thank you Kinect. Like Google, Microsoft are true pioneers who arent afraid to get their experimental products into the world to see what happens. Only through failure can we move on and develop even better products. Apple seem to play it safe nowadays, waiting to see what other people build and if it is successful, before buying the company and branding the technology as its own. How things have changed.

So, its OK to be sceptical. But how do you judge whether a new technology is going to live up to the expectation?

Here are some examples of how technology is packaged up and fed to us:

Google Glass

Remember Googles first Glass promo? The final product was soooo different to this. Of course the UI will be flawlessly integrated into our complete field of view and will be super crisp and sharp too! Google did roll out promo videos that were slightly more realistic later on, but even those were massively exaggerated compared to the actual reality of a tiny, blurred screen floating in the corner of your peripheral. Not to mention the flawed voice recognition that managed to be even more infuriating than Siri. Thats really impressive.

Wii

The excitement surrounding the Nintendo Wii launch in 2006 was insane and to be fair, the final product did, more or less, live up to the portrayed user experience in the launch film. It just didnt show people throwing their controllers through the TV or falling into their fish tanks.

Then there are the other bits of technology that have had me scratching my head in wonder:

Scribblepen

The Scribblepen promises to produce ink in any colour just by scanning the colour you want to use off an image. But, HOW?!! Ive not been able to get an answer to this and yet, I have asked. My main niggle with this is how will it mix the ink so perfectly and quickly in the barrel of the pen? Would you need to clean it out between uses?

Echo

Following the tradition of annoyingly hip and cosy families in tech, is the Amazon Echo family. Thankfully, these guys arent as annoying as anything Apple or Microsoft have produced in the past and the reviews for Amazons new personal assistant do seem positive. The proof is in the pudding though, so well have to see if the voice recognition is as good as they say it is or if, like Siri, it depends on the user having a west-coast US accent and using the thing in a nice, quiet environment without kids screaming in the background. For me, it is still quicker to type in a search than it is to get my device to recognise what the hell I am asking it.

Jibo

And then theres Jibo. Will he really be this creepy? Will he really read stories to my kids and help them with their homework so I can get on with the more important business of other stuff? Weve yet to see, but I suspect Jibo could, again, just be Siris creepy little cousin. Jibo is actually quite cute though, so it is interesting how, already, hes being labelled as evil. It seems we dont really trust cute technology.

Ring

This gesture-based smart ring turned out to be completely useless and the YouTube video by Snazzy Labs is hysterical. The most ridiculous thing about it is just how massive it is! Its supposed to be a piece of jewellery first right?! But, even if you do like massive chunks of metal wedged onto your finger, then theres also the small issue of the thing just not working as advertised. Seriously, check out the Kickstarter and read those comments. It will make your day.

Smarty Ring

Stopped laughing yet? Heres another ring product called Smarty Ring and this one looks completely fake, so in comparison at least the other guys built theirs! Are these people really getting funded?!

Bleen

This is the Bleen Hologram projector that the Creators Project points out cant seem to provide any proof that it can do what it promises. Just look at the dodgy photoshop in their marketing material! Also note that their promo video no longer exists on YouTube. In fact, Ive been unable to find an image of this product doing anything other than looking like a futuristic egg. Check out the indiegogo page and you will see one image of the thing looking all ominously activated. Unfortunately, theres nothing to suggest its actually projecting a hologram, but there is a very reassuring scientist standing next to it - well, I think its a scientist, he has a lab coat on and everything. The Bleen is optimistically scheduled for October 2015, so I guess well have to wait and see.

Holovision

Holovision is another company promising hologram technology without glasses and their site does offer some pretty convincing scientific data (if, like me, you dont understand a word of it and just assume it is true). Lucky for us we also have articles about how fake the Holovision product is. Theres also a video you can watch here in which a supposed product is demonstrated whilst the founder of the company talks about how revolutionary it is. The video has been edited with clips of holograms in films to make it look very futuristic, but the actual technology looks like nothing more than a peppers ghost effect (a projection technology that is only viewable inside a box with a mirror in it). This isnt a hologram at all, and certainly not what they seem to be describing.

Immersis

And this is Immersis, promising to transform your living room into an immersive screen, using its clever projection mapping technology. This concept video rings alarm bells straight away. It promises to map your video signal onto any shape of room, giving the viewer a distortion-free image. But this would only be the case for one person whose vantage point is the same as the projector. Youd also better make sure you move everything in the room behind you to avoid those pesky shadows - unless they are also bending light, which would be truly amazing! Joking aside, this technology does look interesting, but it will be in the commercial AV sector that it will be best positioned. I can see it being useful for gigs, exhibition spaces, theatre production etc. Experiential marketeers and Projection Mapping enthusiasts will also find it of particular interest. I feel that maybe they should have been marketing it at those folk instead of the casual gamers and telly addicts.

To conclude: we live in an age where there is a hunger for new technology, like never before, and you should expect to see a lot more of these very glossy promotional films carefully describing what they would like your user experience to be if you take the plunge and buy their products. Marketeers know that the majority of consumers are not futurologists or computer scientists, so you have to make your informed decisions about their products based on these films. They need to be more honest with their audiences. Tech Porn is fine, but please describe it appropriately. Do not devise a fantastical, interpretation of an experience that will just bamboozle the viewer and ultimately, disappoint.

So, please, be sceptical and remember, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Lee Probert,

Creative Technologist

Southpaw Communications Ltd

Southpaw

The Warehouse, Hill Street,
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
TN1 2BY

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