With increased Internet connection speeds and the now vast array of Internet devices becoming part of our everyday life, there is a whole new potential of creating more exciting and engaging user experiences.
When the iPhone was released a few years ago people started using smart phones increasingly as entertainment devices although their potential is far from being realised properly for this type of use. Despite introducing a touch screen interface to a vastly wider audience, the capability of the iPhone hasn't been explored as much as it could have been; a quick browse of the App Store reveals a host of applications which interactively share a lot in common with desktop computers and consoles, but not so many which harness the unique features of the device.
Only a few developers are taking advantage of the iPhone's features and an even smaller number of applications use it to integrate the device in to a bigger experience which exists beyond the handset's screen, choosing instead to limit it to the confines of its case.
I like to think of the building blocks we used to play with when we were kids. The same way these blocks could be stacked on top each other to create new objects, smart phones are capable of carrying out simple tasks using the accelerometer, GPS, the camera or the microphone that can be combined to create exciting interfaces. The challenge is to distribute tasks to the technologies that are most suitable for the creative idea. Often this may mean using a variety of different devices - desktop machines, for example, offer a vast amount of processing power - to get the desired effect and this is by no means a bad thing.
The key lies in the connectivity of these devices. It takes only a fraction of a second to connect to the Internet and send or receive some data. In many cases users barely notice the difference between working locally and being connected to the Internet and this fast transfer speed opens up an incredible variety of opportunities for technologies to talk to each other.
The invisible hand in all this is the web server. You could argue that there are ways of connecting devices to one another directly but the reality is that in most cases you won't be aware of all the different setups and devices, thus increasing the risk application is just not going to work properly. Putting a web server in the middle means that you only have to specify the communication between your devices. And with the help of standard web technologies it's pretty straightforward to implement such a thing.
At Pirata London we've recently created 'The Boat Race'. Built as a tech demo, the game transforms the iPhone into a Wii-style games controller while the game play itself takes place on a website you're visiting with your computer. Using the iPhone’s accelerometer, the user’s movement is tracked and reported back to the site to propel the player’s boat through the water. By separating tasks between relevant devices we've brought people out of the confines of their screens and made a very simple but genuinely communal gaming experience.
I'm looking forward to creative ideas that combine outdoor digital screens and smart phones or perhaps connect the devices we find in a typical household. We now have a genuine opportunity to create much more integrated experiences across more and more differing technologies.
About the Author, Christian Klotz
Christian Klotz is a Creative Technologist at Pirata London. With a history in application design and development for installations, web and mobile devices he is especially interested in how to create great user experiences by combining the different capabilities of different platforms and devices.