The future of context aware devices

Our mobile devices are increasingly becoming more context aware, opening up a range of possibilities. Where might things go in the future?

Recently there have been innovations to the Android and iOS operating systems on our mobile devices that are designed to preempt what we want. For example, at the launch of iOS9, Apple spoke about the iPhone becoming more proactive – it would begin to anticipate what apps you needed, when and where, and Android’s Google Now performs a similar function. In other words, our phones have started to become more context aware.

The current manifestation of context-aware phones means that your phone might offer up your favorite sat nav app whenever you get in the car (thanks to it sensing your car’s bluetooth connection), or it might offer up Spotify whenever you plug in your headphones.

But these implementations feel like they’re at an early stage of development still. Where might things go in the future and what might be the stumbling blocks along the way?

Google phone screen

The key for these technologies to improve further would obviously be for our phones to be able to know more about our immediate context. For this to happen, devices will need to integrate more sensors (perhaps via connected wearables) and use more innovative ways of being aware of the environment – but also more ways of knowing what we’re thinking as, or even before, we’re thinking it.

Our devices, almost always on our person these days, will become intimately aware of our habits. They might even start to notice habits that we haven’t noticed ourselves. For example, as our phones become more integrated with payment systems and loyalty cards, our devices might notice when we haven’t bought any fresh veg for a while and so might suggest we top up on some vitamins. Or that you tend to flag around 2.5 miles into your daily jog so might suggest playing a more upbeat song around that time to motivate you.

You might have mixed reactions to some of these examples – some might see them as the beginning of a technological utopia, leading us to living ever more productive and effective lives, whereas others might see it as giving up far too much autonomy and privacy. It’s certainly going to be a fine line, and one that technology companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook are facing more and more, often finding themselves on very different sides. It feels like there are going to be many more examples where companies test out what is and isn’t acceptable to customers on the scales of convenience vs privacy.

Principal Design Researcher

Sutherland Labs
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