Immersive as well as interactive experiences

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This post may take a while to get into, so please bear with me, but I want to take two examples that showcase where I was going on immersive experiences.

User experience problems barring the way for immersive experiences

I gave my parents my first iPad in September last year so that we could stay in touch, and detailed some of the challenges that they faced in getting to grips with the device. There were two things that sprang out of this that I found of interest:

  • Special purpose devices like the digital TV EPG (electronic programme guide) or a satellite navigation device interface seemed to be easier to grasp
  • Modern interfaces weren’t as intuitive as we think

All of this is ironic given that the long term goal of HCI is to design systems that minimise the gap between the user’s cognitive model of what they want to do and the computer’s understanding of the user’s task.

From the late 1980s through to the dot com boom, technology was genuinely exciting. We got a whole new genre of fiction: cyberpunk, there was tremendous advances and glorious failures in innovation.
Sony Glasstron
Devices like Sony’s Glasstron display made wearable computing seem like just around the corner. Computer performance leapt forward, you could really feel the speed difference between processor chips or going from one games console generation to another.  And there was a large degree of form-factor experimentation in computing:

These weren’t necessarily accessible to the average consumer, they were aspirational in nature. Culture including film, art and music promised an immersive cybernetic experience from The Lawnmower Man to Cyber Dog club wear. Virtual reality arcade games to the PowerGlove for Nintendo’s NES meant that William Gibson’s vision of the internet seemed just around the corner. Yet despite the early promise of this technology we ended up with mere interactive experiences that put up a barrier between the user and technology.

If we come forward to 2013, the killer applications of the smartphone aren’t a million miles away from the proto-instant messaging and chat services provided by CompuServe and AOL before the modern internet got started. In order to get the technology to work better it is time to break down the cognitive barriers and revisit immersive experiences.

There are two ways of providing immersive experiences:

  • Immersing the consumer in the device
  • Immersing the data in the environment

An example of immersing the consumer in the device is easy to find. From Sony’s Glasstron headsets, to augmented reality application Layar and Apple’s iOS 7.

One of the problems that virtual reality helmets back in the early 1990s was the feeling of motion sickness that it induced. This also seems to be happening with iOS 7, in fact there is now a name for the condition: cyber-sickness.

An example of immersing the data in the environment would be 3D projection mapping or a cinema screen and a digital taxi adverts with geofenced campaigns.
The problem is one of scale. Incorporating the data into the environment at least doesn’t make people ill.Where this will take us all is exciting and largely uncharted territory.

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