Creating the Right Time for Emerging Technology

Creating the Right Time for Emerging Technology

It seems like all companies today are trying to find a way to incorporate augmented reality, voice, machine learning, or IoT into every technology product. Promises of systems and applications that can improve customer engagement, boost business optimizations, and provide Geordi La Forge-like VISORS vision are being peddled like the actual cure for blindness (I think someone actually might be doing that). While all these technologies hold enormous intrinsic potential, without the right vision and strategy they will ultimately serve as a hindrance long before they improve the engagements at your company.

We’ll cover why it’s important for you to take pause and think about why you are considering such new tools and how to be critical of getting the timing and implementation right for your project.

So, When is the Right Time?

The easy answer: when you can find a way to give your users utility. Period.

The hard answer: it’s a nascent technology and you won’t know without first taking a deeper dive into your team’s readiness to adopt, and more importantly the specific use cases driving the development need at your company.

Today’s applications of such technologies have largely revolved around marketing and one-off cases — it’s the best way to create a use case for what might be perceived as an otherwise crazy and impractical new technology. That’s why over the last 10 years, we’ve seen AI on Jeopardy, people of all ages catching Pokemon on the streets, and Alexa skills to turn your house into George Jettson’s abode. While entertaining and easily understood, these are crowd-pleasing displays of what nascent technology can do — in the chart above, AR, VR, and Voice still existing between ‘Frenzy’ and ‘Maturing.’ This means that as use cases are pioneered it’s critically important to think creatively and thoughtfully of how these tools can bring utility to the users they hope to provide with long-term impact.

Solve a Problem

When it comes to the AR, Voice, or traditional mobile applications (only 10-plus years ago an emerging technology) we help develop for our clients, it’s critical to start with the one question: “What is it I aim to solve at my company?” This question must be asked devoid of any assumed technology, process, or solution — it’s easy to pigeonhole yourself to what you think you should be outputting (I need an App. My field workers need AR). It’s not uncommon for us at Shockoe to turn prospects away from technology and instead have them reflect on their existing systems and processes before diving into building out “solutions.” By taking this introspective approach, our clients are given a (sometimes rare) chance look at the broader picture with the purpose of evaluating and surfacing whether they are indeed solving for a problem, or instead, buying into the latest flavor of emerging technology with no real business gain.

Ideation and Use Cases

Walk through the trade show of any conference and you’ll hear product after product built on AR, VR, OCR, or Voice with the promise of being the catch-all solution to any challenge your company has ever faced. It’s easy to be coerced — a single case study can stand out and demonstrate industry parallels that make it seem like a no-brainer.

This is when you should take a moment to think of the broader picture. Ideation and establishing clear use cases for your specific company needs is a mandatory second step. Stakeholders, compliance directors, financial and managerial key players should sit together in a room to answer and ultimately pose the one driving question behind your use case. In short: what is it your team jointly hopes to resolve, improve, or eliminate? There must be strategic alignment (not tactical!) between VPs, Managers, Supervisors, and field workers. Period. It’s only once you have firmly posed this question that you can start thinking critically as to how you answer it:

  • How might we reduce the cost of on-going training without sacrificing quality?
  • How might we boost medical trial adherence with less frequent check-ups?
  • How might we reduce the stress of prolonged and complex medical procedures and have happier patients?

It’s only at this junction that you can consider new technology. Use this as an opportunity to tap every stakeholder, identify every blocker, and come up with a joint plan to resolve your business challenge.

Prove it or Fail Fast

Design Sprints are an ideal way to test your ‘crazy’ ideas quickly and meaningfully. If you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy of Sprint by Jake Knapp.

Rather than having countless inconclusive roundtable discussions with varying internal stakeholders, take the prototype and put it in front of the eyes that will ultimately be using your technology idea. It may seem like an obvious task, but too often ideas are produced and tested among the creators and company stakeholders alone.

Build a prototype in Figma, Sketch, Powerpoint — fake the nuance and details but get the experience to feel as real as possible. This might mean crude Unity models, slapped together Alexa skills, or dynamic powerpoint slides that mimic the real thing. Regardless of how, provide an experience that can let your test subjects to give you candid feedback that can make, break, or guide your project through the next stages.

If done properly, this stage can become the springboard for identifying key conversions, behaviors, or KPI’s that will continue to shape and improve your built technology. In short, find a way of proving out the ROI or the desired behavior that will drive the proof and efficacy of your MVP or full-scale project.

Measure, Measure, and Don’t Forget to Measure

Should your testing demonstrate users that are open to embracing your proposed emerging technology tools, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re over the finish line. Stay vigilant and stay critical for ways to prove your investment and future iterations. Set key metrics to determine adoption, usage, and to pivot your strategy in the face of attrition. The testing done with individual users is not a catchall solution, but merely a litmus test of your target audience. Take advantage of analytic tools, hardware and application alike — these are the data points that will drive ongoing development, small or large.

If you’re not sure of how to set this up, I invite you to think back to that one critical question: What is is your team is hoping to resolve? Keep your analytics simple and if you do nothing else, ensure your data give you a clear answer that one key question.

Emerging Technology is Not Always the Answer

We’ve turned clients away from an idea when it was simply the wrong fit. As you venture along the process above, you’ll be thankful you failed in a one week sprint rather than 6 months after sinking countless resource hours into an unadopted product.

Whether it’s AR, VR, Voice, or otherwise, there are many technologies that users simply may or very well may not be ready to welcome into their lives. Be honest about your end-user, be methodic about your exploration and discovery, and then and only then will you be ready to bring the latest technology to your company.

Jaime De La Ree

Jaime De La Ree

Jaime De La Ree is the acting business development lead at Shockoe with five years of experience in mobile technology consulting. Before joining Shockoe, Jaime worked in supply chain distribution management and later as a non-profit technology partner. When he’s not helping Shockoe build partnerships, Jaime spends his time with his wife and son, and in the remaining time is an avid carpenter, photographer, and astronomer.

What to Consider When Starting an R&D Program

What to Consider When Starting an R&D Program

When I began at Shockoe in 2017, one of the personal draws for me was the fact that there was a clear commitment to pursuing the use of new and innovative technologies. In 2018, we began pursuing R&D in earnest, beginning to identify methods for vetting new technologies and determining how to best use these technologies to improve our processes and help our clients explore new opportunities. 2019 has marked the first full year where we have begun the year with a coordinated plan that has stemmed from past learnings, and after the first quarter of implementation, I am excited to say that we are making significant progress on the execution of our plan. For those of you who might be considering implementing a similar program at your organization, or for those of you who might be interested in learning about or specific R&D initiatives (such as our recent consumer flooring visualizer that we shared at MWC in Barcelona), I wanted to share some of our learnings up to this point.

Takeaway Number One: Have a Plan

And make it as detailed as possible. This might sound obvious, but in reality, It’s easy to say that you want to commit to R&D. When you get into the thick of it, however, it becomes easy to let R&D take a back-seat to more pressing matters. By having a thorough plan in place from the outset, it becomes easier to reach goals, hold people accountable, and enjoy the ride of what can be an exciting and stressful initiative. When crafting your plan, consider the following:

  • Identify Goals – we knew that we wanted to accomplish several things with our R&D plan. First, we wanted to create a mechanism for developing and vetting processes and technologies that would improve how we solve problems for our clients. Second, we wanted to make sure that these new processes and technologies would be embraced by our team, and that they would be able to learn and implement them.
  • Identify Technologies – given the breadth of what we could pursue with an R&D plan, we knew we had to narrow our focus. Broadly speaking, we have committed solely to emerging technologies, which we define as those technologies that are currently nascent, yet show significant long-term promise for process improvement. More specifically, we have identified emerging technologies that we see as critically important to improving the mobile experience: voice, augmented, and virtual reality.
  • Identify Outcomes – with the goals and technologies in place, we set specific tactical outcomes into our plan that would address a variety of industries and end users. Ultimately, we determined that our plan would execute on six projects throughout the year, each covering a different industry vertical (ranging from energy to finance to retail), with three meeting consumer user needs and three meeting enterprise user needs. Ultimately, each project would take learnings from the prior projects in order to apply shared findings across a broad spectrum of applications.
  • Identify Resource Needs – ultimately, we knew that this would need to be the most detailed and thorough piece of the plan, in order to make sure that we could execute on the plan as sustainably as possible. As such, I outlined resources by type for every day of every project through the end of the year. This was critically necessary to make sure that our financial and hiring projections could account for the exact needs of our team, including this dedicated R&D allocation. By detailing at the granular level, I knew that it would make it significantly easier for our delivery team to execute on the plan once we got into full swing. Which brings me to my next takeaway…

Takeaway Number Two: Communicate the Plan

  • Cross-Disciplinary Communication – as a small-to-medium sized company, we do not have dedicated “R&D resources” —rather, team members from each of our practice areas dedicate some portion of their time to pursuing R&D initiatives as needed. As such, it was critically important that I communicate with each practice lead as early as possible in order to solicit feedback on appropriate strategic and tactical directions. Through several discussions with each of my colleagues, I was able to hear their individual goals and concerns, and make sure that we could implement a plan that was truly cross-disciplinary and would meet the overall goals and needs of the company as a whole.
  • Iterate on the Plan – the goal of this level of communication at the outset is to allow for rapid iteration prior to implementation. In the span of a few weeks, we were able to identify strengths and weaknesses in the plan, allowing us to build towards the greatest areas of opportunity and quickly position ourselves to execute in a sustainable and successful way.

Takeaway Number Three: Execute

  • Collaborate on Execution – the reality is that, while communication is critically important to the formation of a successful R&D plan, it is equally if not more important for successful execution. I have found that in the first quarter of the year, I have had significant communications with every practice lead in order to ensure that we are implementing the plan as we have envisioned. Each project has required a strong connection between strategy, design, and development, as well as overall operations, finance, HR, and marketing. This has been no small task, and I strongly advise you to include time for collaboration and communication in your execution plan.
  • Write a Brief – the overarching company-wide plan might give team members a big picture view of the R&D goals, the specific projects have required a bit more focused task creation prior to execution. Specifically, we’ve been treating each plan as a specific set of business objectives from a given industry, using prior research to recognize major pain points and determine if/how these emerging technologies might be able to improve processes and/or add operational efficiencies. Some of these objectives stem from specific work with some of our clients and partners, while others are use cases that we’ve arrived at through examining industry analysis in publications such as Gartner and Forrester.
  • Day-to-Day Execution – while our overall goals and specific project outcomes are set prior to beginning a project, it has been very important to recognize the cadence and outcome of the day-to-day activities. Specifically, the balance and interplay of education, implementation, and documentation. Depending on the day, task, or individual, this balance may shift more heavily towards one area; however, it has been important that we seek to make sure that all three of these are accounted for on a regular basis.

Takeaway Number Four: Be Flexible

  • Adjusting the Plan – The reality of creating a very detailed plan at the outset of the year is that there will inevitably be unforeseen circumstances that require shifting from the initial ambition. Knowing how to assess the need for adjustment, and when to make the adjustment, is critical. As you gain learnings from the R&D initiatives themselves, this will inform how you pivot, lending new perspective into how you execute. By maintaining this flexibility and adjusting when necessary, we’ve been able to get great output from our team, and we’ve kept a nimble and agile approach the prevents us from investing too heavily in the wrong technology, process, or objective.
  • Expect the Unexpected – the reality with R&D, particularly with emerging technologies, is that something will inevitably surface that is completely different than what was initially planned for at the outset. This is part of the process and, while it can be stressful, it can also be a big part of the fun. Learning new things leads to new adventures, which is one of our core values here at Shockoe.

Takeaway Number Five: Communicate the Outcomes

  • Internally – whether propriety or simply exploratory, we view it as critical that our R&D findings get documented internally in order to educate and train team members who might not have been on the R&D initiative itself. Given that we have invested in these pursuits with the goal of both vetting and adopting the new tech and processes, it’s important that everyone involved have the opportunity to learn from and weigh in on the findings. Moving forward, it’s equally important that our teammates be able to take these learnings and findings, and use them to add value to our clients through our new service offerings.
  • Externally – depending on the nature of your R&D program, this may be less critical. For Shockoe, we see the R&D program as a way of improving what we do by pursuing things that challenge us. We’re proud of what we do, and we find excitement in sharing our work. For us, external communication includes a few things. First, we like to work with our existing clients/partners to make sure that they understand our work, and seek their feedback and participation in future projects. Second, we use traditional marketing and PR channels to help seek external feedback from trade organizations, industry analysts, and potential clients. This can take the form of a variety of methods, including press releases, social media, white papers, and… you know… maybe a blog post.
Dan Cotting

Dan Cotting

With over a decade of customer and user experience strategy under his belt, Dan Cotting is Shockoe’s Director of Immersive Technology and resident “future-tech-crazy-person.” Dan fully believes that virtual and augmented reality will pave the way for an entirely new approach to business operations: improving the lives of both employees and consumers, while simultaneously increasing business efficiency and productivity. When he isn’t dreaming about this “Ready Player One” future, Dan spends his free time playing bass guitar, practicing 18th century photographic techniques, brewing beer, and enjoying time with his wife Kelly and son Marshall, and their five rescue pets. He holds a B.S. from Boston University and an M.S. from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Effectively using AR for Brand Loyalty

Effectively using AR for Brand Loyalty

With the rise of AR integration in many mobile apps, we are beginning to see a clear delineation between what drives meaningful and lasting loyalty versus momentary enjoyment. While creating a momentary boost to brand visibility & traffic these kinds of augmented experiences don’t do anything to the long-term health of the brand or serve the customer. Take the example of a Purdue University study that showed participants a printed version and an augmented reality version of the same ad:

  • The print ad retained 82% of the factual information
  • The AR ad only 59% percent

Using augmented reality impeded communication because the focus was on the technology rather than the message.

The challenge of using AR in mobile for brands is to figure out how it drives utility with that ‘wow’ factor.

Augmented Reality, Augmented Value

Some brands that are doing AR well are Warby Parker, Ikea & Sephora. They’ve figured out how to use it to elevate the brand experience by combining what consumers want from mobile to seamlessly create an enhanced shopping experience. Warby Parker does this by allowing customers to digitally try on glasses using AR to see glasses on their own face.

This strategic use triggers all of the sweet spots: Visual, Personal, and Emotional to deliver a rewarding interaction. Similarly, Ikea & Sherwin-Williams utilize their mobile app and AR to allow customers to see how products will look in their homes.
Featuring your customer or their home as the model, you remove any doubts about what the product will look like in real life. The personalization is perfect, and so too is the convenience. By allowing consumers to experience products in their homes, brands are actually driving them to their brick and mortars by creating a guarantee that their time won’t be wasted. Instead of multiple visits to the store to make returns if something doesn’t look or fit correctly, AR is a fail-safe.

Making it Personal

To be able to physically see something is always going to be more impactful than just trying to visualize it in your head. It’s a make-or-break moment for our “I need it” response. When applied to shopping, it not only makes the decision easier but makes the experience more personalized and fun. All of the previous brands mentioned have achieved this but Sephora is exceptional at it. And for good reason considering their product offering is luxury cosmetics which is not as necessary of a purchase as new glasses, all things considered. Their makeover tool, which allows people to try products on digitally is robust in that it conveys not just the look but also techniques. This is especially important for their consumers who want to know if a certain shade will look good with their skin tone or are unsure how to apply it.
With research showing that 79% of customers only consider brands that show they understand and care about “me,” and 56% being loyal to brands that deeply understand their priorities and preferences, personalization is a must.

How Do I Make it Click?

Designing AR experiences that actually drive sales can be a challenge. Often the most interesting or innovative AR experiences aren’t always ones that help reach KPIs. A carefully strategized experience should increase long term engagement and help usher consumers down the conversion funnel. Measuring things like:

  • Items viewed
  • Items added to cart
  • Purchases

That are made in the same session as using an AR tool, makes sense. Many though fail to think about how it will affect a consumer’s interaction with the entire brand over the long term. Including KPIs for things such as:

  • Purchases made in later sessions
  • Adding items to wishlists
  • Sharing items with others
  • Cross-platform conversions

Will give a much fuller picture of how and how well the tool is being used. AR mobile experiences are most likely to have the desired effect when they involve three things—search, browse, and buy. If it’s easier for shoppers to do each of those things whenever they want to, then the retailer can expect to achieve maximum results from the AR experience. Often consumers crave visual inspiration or curation and “Great digital experiences make it feel seamless to go from browsing or searching to buying.” says Nancy Hua of Apptimize

Integrating AR into your mobile app should be a purposeful decision that combines “wow” with utility; creating a weighty brand loyalty tool that provides real value to your customer’s lives.

Laura Little

Laura Little

Laura graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and holds a degree in Creative Advertising. She’s passionate about authentic narratives, finding what a brand believes in and figuring out how to best translate that to consumers. She feels fortunate to have worked in and have experience in just about every part of the advertising and marketing world. In her downtime she can be found going on outside adventures with her dogs, enjoying local breweries, or doing experiments in her kitchen.

5 Mobile Experience Design Trends to Invest In

5 Mobile Experience Design Trends to Invest In

With new technology being rolled out regularly, designers have a fantastic opportunity to use new tools and methods to improve the products we create for mobile experiences. This is our time to marry content, personalization, voice interactions, micro-interactions, and video to produce unique experiences that will attract and impress users for years to come.

 

1. Being Content-Centered

Our clients often look to us for the most effective means of distributing their content in a way that services the users and provides the client with reliable and quality data.

“Time is of the essence” has never been a truer statement. Users have super-short attention spans (Hubspot reports only about 8 seconds or so) that shrink more every year. Seconds matter – so while design can be pretty, more importantly, it needs to be purposeful. If we aren’t designing to make the content the most important aspect of each screen, then we are failing our clients and most importantly, users.

While designing around content that has yet to be provided is far from ideal, there are a few workarounds. You can always default to the popular Lorem Ipsum placeholder text, or you could try using the content that’s being replaced from your client’s current site, create your own, or borrow from a competitor’s site.

By using text and color as interactive design elements, you can strategically create quick, vibrant, and delightful user experiences that expedite the user’s journey with a content-centered experience. Keep it simple. You don’t want to overwhelm your users with too much information.

This insurance app does a great job of displaying multiple options in a visually simple way, both in a tab and main menu format.

 

content-centered-insurance-app

Image Credit: Nimasha Perara

 

2. Personalization

Personalization is one of the most frequently requested features in user interviews. Weather content, design, or navigation, users like to feel connected with the user interface. If there’s a pattern of disconnect, they will likely not want to return, especially given a user’s ever-shrinking attention span.

Personalization can be achieved in a number of ways, including:

  • Enabling cookies on websites to remember what users prefer on your site
  • Implementing location tools on mobile to remind users of their interests
  • Incorporating the seasons or holidays to create a user experience that feels current and relative, and allowing users to create profiles to customize their experience.

More often than not, people are more inclined to share negative experiences than positive ones, so it is imperative that we are creating a more intuitive experience for our users. If users feel a connection with a website or app, they will want to return and hopefully share their positive experiences.

The animation below highlights one of Shockoe’s latest customizable interfaces for a banking application. We helped create a mobile experience that allowed members to customize which cards they land on first, allowing users to get their most important information faster.

 

shockoe-banking-app-personalization

 

3. Voice Interaction

There is no denying the impact that Siri, Alexa, and Google have made on our usability. My seven-year-old daughter chats up Alexa regularly — asking for songs, to make animal noises, and even a few weeks back, asked if she was married! I find this to be a testament to what next-generation interaction looks like and the importance of adopting it sooner rather than later.

Over 30 million households now have voice interaction tools, which is incredible! The rise of voice interaction will undoubtedly drive the increase of designing without an interface. Good UX seeks the path of least resistance, and voice interaction certainly bypasses any friction that may have existed in a physical UI.

When designing for voice interactions, experienced designers will need to to take into account many new considerations. Providing users with suggestions may help alleviate confusion when the system doesn’t understand the command or cannot produce the desired result. For example, you could have a retail app say: “You can ask to order shoes or browse shoes.” You should also consider providing the user with an easy way out by offering “leave” as an option.

Is the mic even on? Users will need to know when the AI they’re chatting with is paying attention and when there might be a problem.

 

voice-interaction

Image Credit: Juan C. Angustia

 

4. Microinteractions

Engaging with micro-interactions is one of my favorite things when using an app. Micro-interactions are simply subtle design effects based around completing a task. These tiny interactions bring a level of delight to a user experience. If implemented correctly, these in-app gestures and animations can reduce design clutter, increase intuitiveness, and make interaction almost seamless. Fewer buttons on a screen mean more focused content, and we all know that having the right content, is king.

Medium has a controversial “clapping” interaction, as an alternative way to “like” an article you’ve read. Love them or hate them, these tiny claps with fireworks are both silly and cute enough to have caused a plethora of blog posts both praising and cursing the change from “likes” to “claps”. Humans inherently hate change, so it’s not surprising that bloggers took to the Internet to vent about this change, just as they did with Instagram’s iconic logo change a few years back. Change is sometimes a necessary evil — it’s where great ideas stem from. I for one applaud medium for taking the bold step to attempt to improve usability.

With micro-interactions, there is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the user and the app through fun and satisfying actions that leave users emotionally content – they help engage users to interact with tasks intuitively, like express appreciation with likes or favorites, navigate sites with subtle animated transitions, or filling out form fields with hint text.

Predictive micro-interactions can provide directive animations to assist users with onboarding, making it more delightful and ultimately, less confusing

 

microinteractions

Image Credit: Leo Zakour

 

5. Fullscreen & Vertical Video

In 2017, the use of videos surged as a marketing medium. Hubspot reports that 81% of businesses utilized videos as a marketing tool and nearly 100% of those businesses say they’ll continue to do so in 2018. 65% of the businesses that didn’t use videos in 2017 say they are planning to in 2018.

Words are important, but with videos, users are able to experience a more interactive form of content while also consuming more information in a shorter amount of time. This is another form of putting content front and center in a way that doesn’t force users to scroll. With AR and VR becoming more common, a full-screen video will inevitably become the norm, providing users with a more immersive: personally-impactful experience that will give them more of an emotional connection. When users are immersed in another person’s experience, be it skiing the slopes, walking in an impassioned protest, exploring caves, or learning a new DIY project, they are bound to have a richer and deeper connection with the content.

As video content infiltrates our favorite sites and apps, users tend to keep their mobile devices in portrait mode, rather than turning them horizontally for a full-width view. According to LukeW, 94% of users view their content in portrait mode, while only 6% view content in landscape mode, thus the obvious need to provide users with the option to view all content, including video, in portrait mode.

Apple’s new Clip app offers users fullscreen AR selfies similar to Snapchat’s World Lenses. Mashable reports that Clip will offer an animated 360° scene that you can experience by moving the camera around.

 

fullscreen-vertical-app-video

Image Credit: Apple

 

facebook-live-video-app

Facebook Live Video. Image Credit Buzzfeed

 

Other Experience Trend Shoutouts

Since I couldn’t list every single popular experience trend, I wanted to at least show some love to a couple more experiences worth mentioning.

AR and VR

Quickly evolving into affordable and viable options for both enterprises and consumers. Whether you’re looking for augmented/virtual entertainment or augmented/virtual training, this medium has yet to surface its full potential. As AR and VR continue to find great ubiquity and user acceptance, think about how this technology could advance the medical, construction, aeronautics, and engineering fields in the years ahead.

Biometrics

It may seem new, and it sort of is, but since Apple released the iPhone X’s biometric face identification feature, it appears the bar has risen in security authentication. Fingerprint authorization is now common in comparison. Biometrics will continue to innovate and demand designers and developers to push the envelope when considering the user’s privacy and security concerns. Designers will need to keep in mind the willingness of their users to participate in the functionality and devs will need to remember that biometrics don’t protect against passcodes or tokens being shared. They’re simply new ways for users to gain access to their data without being too inconvenienced with passcode interruptions.

Jason Day
Jason Day

Jason graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design and holds degrees in Illustration and Sequential Art. His diverse professional careers have ranged from comic book artist, picture framer, retail store management, photographer, building inspector, and designer, demonstrating his ability to understand multiple facets of thinking and implementing them in intuitive ways.

The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Business: 2018 Report

The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Business: 2018 Report

Virtual reality and augmented reality are two of the most innovative technologies to gain mainstream traction over the past several years. These nascent media have taken content cues from the related fields of cinema and video gaming: that is to say that a significant amount of the content has been devoted to the purpose of consumer entertainment. However, businesses have identified other compelling use cases for these media that are all largely focused around the concept of utility.

 

Put simply, digital interfaces have the capacity to function as useful tools, and some of these tools make work easier, faster, safer, and more efficient. (For a more significant breakdown of the concept of utility apps, check out this post from Shockoe COO Alex Otañez). In the case of VR and AR, companies have been embracing these unique tools as a means of improving operations for a variety of use cases, all stemming from unique affordances inherent to the media themselves. I would encourage anyone who has read this far to download the full report posted below — while this post is a great start, the downloadable PDF provides a much deeper dive into technologies and use cases of how emerging technologies are impacting businesses and operations in 2018.

Download the Report

Adoption Outlook

In a 2018 survey from immersive technology research group VR Intelligence, companies reported significant growth of VR and AR technology in both consumer and enterprise applications. In fact, 38% of respondents reported strong or very strong growth in VR for enterprise, and 43% reported strong or very strong growth in AR for enterprise. Additionally, enterprises have reported a significant intention to invest in immersive technology, with 61% citing VR and 58% citing AR as high priority business areas.

On the surface, it may seem that many companies are attempting to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape. However, the powerful benefits of these new interaction methods can, in many cases, result in a significant benefit to the business in a variety of departments and across many different industry verticals. While respondents in education, AEC (Architecture / Engineering / Construction), and Manufacturing indicated the greatest adoption of XR tech, it is becoming clear that significant use cases exist for everything from health care, to banking & finance, to retail. The most commonly integrated use cases include:

  • Product Design & Prototyping
  • Sales, Marketing & External Communication
  • Manufacturing
  • Workforce Collaboration & Internal Communication
  • Training & Knowledge Retention
  • Educational Learning.

The common thread throughout all of these use cases? Utility.

Understanding the Medium

Implementation of immersive media must begin with developing a clear understanding of the affordances and constraints of the medium itself. For both VR and AR, you are interacting with objects and environments that are three dimensional. For VR, the user is placed into that environment and interacts from within. For AR, the user maintains a sense of their true environment and places and manipulates objects within it. Both media afford the user a true sense of the following:

  • Sense of Size – The actual dimensions of a given object or space.
  • Sense of Scale – How large something is in comparison to the user, or other objects.
  • Sense of Distance – The actual distance covered.
  • Sense of Proximity – How near or far something is to a user or another object.
  • Sense of Materiality – The color, texture, and material type of a given object, and how it is affected by changes in lighting.

In addition, VR affords the addition of:

  • Sense of Presence – The feeling of “being there.”
  • Sense of Ambience – What the character and atmosphere of a space are like when all of the previous factors are taken into consideration. This can include lighting and acoustics in a space.

Understanding these unique affordances of the media can help guide businesses when attempting to identify use cases in the areas outlined in the above section. For example, a true sense of size and scale can help manufacturers use AR to improve their quality assurance process or use VR to iteratively design product in a tactile manner.

Considering the Benefits

It would benefit companies to look to smart speakers as a good example of how a medium’s inherent qualities can enable utility. For example, Google Assistant is a virtual personal assistant (or VPA) that is implicitly designed to offer useful benefits to the user. What makes it groundbreaking is the fact that voice interaction is so natively ingrained in day-to-day user interactions. Native language communication is one of the earliest developmental milestones for us as humans. As such, it is an interaction method that is largely heuristic, allowing users to interact in a natural manner to engender the desired outcome. In other words, the affordances of the medium itself make it more useful.

Virtual reality and fully spatialized augmented reality possess a similar quality. Even before we develop language, we develop fine motor skills in order to interact with the world around us. Picking up and manipulating objects is one of the greatest evolutionary benefits we have as a species. It has allowed for the development of tools, which has in turn allowed for the development of complex societies. Despite this, many traditional digital two-dimensional interfaces are limited in their tactility, forcing the user to operate in a rectilinear environment consisting only of an X and a Y axis. That’s not to diminish the value of two-dimensional interfaces—GUIs and touch-enabled mobile devices have been among two of the most groundbreaking societal advances. Yet, there are still certain tasks that might be better accomplished through three-dimensional interaction. By understanding the nature of immersive media, businesses can build useful applications that were previously impossible, thus improving accuracy, efficiency, connectivity, and mobility.

Want to read more? Download the Full report

To learn more about how emerging technology is improving the way that businesses operate, download the 2018 Shockoe Emerging Outlook Report.

Download the Report
Dan Cotting

Dan Cotting

Director of Immersive Technology

With over a decade of customer and user experience strategy under his belt, Dan Cotting is Shockoe’s Director of Immersive Technology and resident “future-tech-crazy-person.” Dan fully believes that virtual and augmented reality will pave the way for an entirely new approach to business operations: improving the lives of both employees and consumers, while simultaneously increasing business efficiency and productivity. When he isn’t dreaming about this “Ready Player One” future, Dan spends his free time playing bass guitar, practicing 18th century photographic techniques, brewing beer, and enjoying time with his wife Kelly and son Marshall, and their five rescue pets. He holds a B.S. from Boston University and an M.S. from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Enhancing User Experience with ARKit for a Furniture Manufacturing App

Enhancing User Experience with ARKit for a Furniture Manufacturing App

Augmented Reality (AR) gives us the ability to enhance our world with a real-time overlay of sound, graphics or video. With the promises of Swift’s ARKit, developers have the opportunity to harness this great power and create projects where our only limitation is the imagination. We had the pleasure of utilizing augmented reality and specifically Apple’s ARKit in a recent application for an American furniture manufacturing company. This client wanted to step into this innovative space and turned to Shockoe to create a proof of concept that takes their existing system for documenting defects with a deck of cards and digitize it with an AR app to enhance this process. Let’s dive into more details on this exciting project.

The Client

Our client is a major manufacturer of quality kitchen and bath cabinets for the home with over 500 cabinet styles and a variety of designs, materials, and finishes. You can find these cabinets being sold through a nationwide network of homebuilders, independent dealers, and distributors. In the U.S., many of their products are found at Lowe’s and The Home Depot. So how can a corporation that boasts the embodiment of the marriage of technology, automation and American craftsmanship benefit from an AR experience?

The Ask 

Our team was tasked to create a digital field tool that can aid in the assessment and documentation of product defects using augmented reality and QMS standards. What were we working with? Well, interestingly enough, the current system for assessing a product defect was a deck of transparent cards that employees would hold up against a cabinet surface to mark the defect. These cards contained instructions and details that would allow an employee to properly mark a defect on the appropriate surface. Not only was this process inefficient, it was also ineffective and gave the chance to human error to the user experience. We had to make a change.

The Build

In order to encapsulate these deck of cards, we started with user testing to begin to understand the user mind. We first provided the user with options of cards to choose from in order to provide the appropriate marker for the defect. These options included species, finish and joint type which were used to drive the next list of defect options. Once each category had an option selected, the user was now able to document the defect. You can see examples of this in these screenshots.

AR-app-manufacturing-AR-assesement-screen

Based on the option selected, the user was given a different spec and AR type used to mark the defect. Specs ranged from 1/4” width x 8” length box to parallel lines .010” in width. Precision was key when marking these defects.

Using ARKit, we are able to create virtual objects with these exact specs to best represent the marker. One of the most important benefits of using AR is that it maintains proper scale from any perspective/distance (which is why we couldn’t simply put an overlay over a photo). This killer feature of AR makes it the right feature in this particular case. ARKit was the ideal technology to solve the client’s problem, and we happen to have the skills to do it.

Here is the code I used to map out these options.

func createBoxImage(length: Float, width: Float) -> VirtualObject {
		
	let position = SCNVector3(x: 0, y: 0, z: 0)
		
	let distanceY = self.get3DPositionInYFromPointForDistance(inches: width, fromPosition: position)
	let distanceX = self.get3DPositionInXFromPointForDistance(inches: length, fromPosition: position)
		
	let scnBox1 = SCNBox(width: distanceX, height: 0.001, length: distanceY, chamferRadius: 0)
		
	let rectangleMaterial = SCNMaterial()
	rectangleMaterial.diffuse.contents =  imageLiteral(resourceName: "focus_square.png")
	scnBox1.materials = [rectangleMaterial]
		
	return VirtualObject(geometry: scnBox1, modelName: "Box \(length) in x \(width) in")
}

 

With  ARKit, we had access to vertical planes allowing us to detect and place nodes on vertical surfaces. Once the vertical surface was detected, we prompted the user to tap and place the marker on the defect. The user also had the option to rotate or drag the marker appropriately once placed.

As the last step and to further enhance their experience and provide better documentation, we’ve added the ability to take photos of the defect as well as take notes about the current defect.

The Outcome

Using ARKit allowed us to provide multiple tools into one mobile app that are efficient and innovative. Users are able to access data easily in the field, improving training and speed of proficiency. By increasing speed, accuracy, and efficiency, all business units will be able to operate with more objective assessments of business KPIs. Augmented reality allows for the automatic surface detection and reliable and accurate scale that decreases the level of subjective user assessment. We’re excited to see the progress of this furniture manufacturing company and help clients with similar needs. Reach out to us if this sounds like the right solution to help your team or if you have your own idea of utilizing augmented reality for your app!

Shae Hazelwood

Shae Hazelwood

Developer

Shae is a mobile developer with a passion for producing business-focused applications and strategy-based mobile development. What began with home-grown app prototypes has turned into a career at Shockoe focused on Titanium and Android development as well as considering market deployment practices. When he’s not deep in code, Shae spends his time playing video games and listening to Hip Hop.

Event Recap: VR in Entertainment

Event Recap: VR in Entertainment

To kick off the summer Shockoe and industry experts took an in-depth look at the state of VR in the entertainment industry — from cinema and storytelling to gaming and beyond. We brought together Richmond industry professionals who are using this exciting medium to its fullest potential and pioneering the next generation of VR.

Mark Lambert and his team at VArtisans took a deeper dive into how they’re using Virtual Reality and 360º video to transport users to exciting locations around the world. VArtisans is a Virginia based team of 360 video and VR artists, programmers, and cinematographers brought together to explore new ways of storytelling in 360 video and VR. Mark has decades of VFX and film production experience, working on dozens of projects including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Polar Express, and Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. Over the last year, the VArtisans team has visited 14 countries to film both monoscopic and stereo 360 video. From Uganda to the streets of Paris, Rome, Tokyo and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, VArtisans are currently producing an array of 360 video projects as well as multiple art and experimental pieces. With each new project, they take the opportunity to explore new uses, innovating new techniques and concept improved methods to tell stories with this immersive format. Mark sees a huge audience potential in the rising VR & AR market and 360 video is the beginning wave. Since Google and Facebook added 360 support, usage of VR has taken a steep adoption from users worldwide. The technology, the language, and the experience will be evolving rapidly and VArtisans is excited to explore this world in it’s earliest stages.

Following the presentation, Robbie Ciszek, Tyler Rhodes, and Momin Khan of RVA Game Jams took the stage to share a day-in-the-life of a VR game developer. RVA Game Jams, a community project created in 2012 to bring together passionate video game developers and enthusiasts from the Richmond area. It has grown to be one of the city’s leading groups in video game development and emerging game technology. From development to hardware, they were eager to share more details from some of their latest projects and additionally, presented some of their latest work with the participating audience.

A Mobile Workforce: What Customers Want

A Mobile Workforce: What Customers Want

Preface with a confession

Full disclosure: I am not a developer nor a designer — I’ve been in business ops for most of my professional career. That said, I’ll give myself a dose of credit: I’ve been in tech for years, start-ups and well-established alike. During that time I’ve seen that when it comes to mobile, one thing is consistently fueling a successful app — whether aimed at mobilizing a workforce or driving loyal customers back, apps must always be ready to provide utility in a moment of need. No exceptions.

When I truly needed mobile

This morning I woke up at 5 to the sound of torrential rain. While usually, I would dig myself deeper into my blankets, today it forced me out of bed at a much earlier hour. As it turns out, the night before, my wife detected some water coming into the basement, and I had a feeling it was not going to be a pretty sight downstairs.

I grabbed my phone to kick the lights on around the house. That’s when I noticed my phone was at 75% charge. Strange. It was vexing enough at such an early hour, that after swiping around for a few tired seconds, I forgot to turn the lights on.

I stubbornly walked in the dark and guided myself through the house by carefully feeling out the usual milestones — edge of the bed, door frame, banister, and finally the kitchen light switch. “Damn!” The power was out, and now I had a soaked basement and no light to resolve it.

Be the tool customers want when things fall apart

When things start failing at home, people like myself try to find help in the quickest, cheapest, and most accessible solution possible. For the water, it took shovels, mops, and wheelbarrows. As for the power outage, I had to go through a web-portal, find a billing statement to get an account number, and finally after going through some more personal identification prompts, five minutes later, I was reassured to see a team had been dispatched to fix the problem.

Keeping demanding customers like myself pleased takes some finesse. While I have to give props to my utility company for giving me a five-minute solution, the rising water was not exactly being resolved as I was searching for web-access.

Going mobile is tricky but very doable

Deploying the kinds of mobile management tools that customers crave sometimes go hand-and-hand with the tools that can enable a workforce to act faster, give prompter updates, and resolve more issues in less time. Yet, if these tools don’t exist, it’s alright. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all.

At Shockoe, we’ve done everything from overhauling pen & paper methods and building mobile ecosystems from scratch, all the way to optimizing legacy systems and tapping into API’s to deploy better user experiences. That said, we believe there is a right way to move from antiquated systems, and a measured means of building out tools that can improve your overall service, empower your workforce, and ultimately give customers with flooded basements, the 30-second solution they truly needed.

Step one: Low Investment High Return

If you’re starting from scratch, start internally. Typically your team will be more forgiving than your customers. Figure out what information has been missing as technicians work in the field to complete tickets, receive orders, or communicate with HQ. Regardless of what it is, keep your vision clear, uncomplicated, and unobstructed. Most importantly, keep your metrics measurable and your data visible in a way to demonstrates efficacy to your deployment.

Here are a few things we’ve seen as a valuable step one for Mobile Workforce applications:

  1. Route Mapping: Optimize the travel path between stops by providing real-time directions and automatically tracking time at each stop.
  2. Messaging and Feedback systems: Enable technicians to send notes, photos, and videos back to supervisors or other technicians for feedback, advice, and training.
  3. Repair/Service Supplies: Enable technicians to keep track of inventory and supplies riding with them on the truck. When technicians use items, build an app that keeps track of how much. And when supplies, run low, have the system push a notification (I encourage reading our node.js blog post on how to best do this) to restock the next time they’re parked at HQ.

The key to step one is to make sure you get buy-in from your team by delivering a product that truly saves time and delivers the utility that encourages them to use it time and time again.

Step two: Build on success, Invite your Customers Along

Necessity drives innovation. A tool that is simple will eventually reach a threshold where it must either be built out further or run the risk of feeling limiting to your team. Build on what works, and start giving access to your customers to tap into the data that is relevant to them. I can’t stress this enough — keep utility front and center. Flash, gimmicks, shameless marketing will be evident in a heartbeat. If you want your customers to stay loyal, give them genuine utility and a true reason to pull their phone out when the house is slowly flooding.

A few stage two deployments we encourage:

For driving a mobile workforce

  1. Gamification: create dashboards and performance metrics that show customer satisfaction, ticket time to resolution, accuracy, and safety performance.
  2. AR & VR Training: In some industries, training can entail a safety risk. By incorporating emerging visual technology into your training program, a technician can learn a new skill in a safe, controlled environment.

For customers with midnight woes

  1. Deliver utility first: payments, statements, reporting outages, leaks, and other common service hiccups. The time for your company to shine is when things go awry for your customers
  2. Deliver details: The same system powering technicians can now give a more granular view of when things will be repaired. If you really want to go the extra mile, add an option for customers to opt-in to push notifications giving regular updates to when crews are dispatched, assessing damage, in repair mode, and of course, when repairs are completed.

I get it, it can be daunting to jump into mobile. People are often held back by clunky systems, outdated back-ends, lack of expertise, or general fears of delivering a poor application. But just like the flood, what started with a pushbroom and a lot of cursing, turned into a full scale operation with flashlights, shovels, ladders, and a lot of elbow grease that ultimately cleared out the basement, and fixed the issue at the root — I’ll listen next time my wife tells me to clean the gutters before the spring-time truly rolls in. I would encourage companies to listen to their customers in the same way.

It takes a clear vision and a well-constructed roadmap to take a company from antiquated systems to cutting edge — but don’t fear, it’s doable! If you ever need a hand, you know where to find us.

— Jaime De La Ree is the Business Development Lead at Shockoe with five years of experience in mobile technology sales

5 Mobile Experience Design Trends to Try Now

5 Mobile Experience Design Trends to Try Now

With new technology being rolled out regularly, we designers have a fantastic opportunity to use new tools and methods to improve the products we create for mobile experiences. This is our time to marry content, personalization, voice interactions, microinteractions, and video to produce unique experiences that will attract and impress users for years to come.

With 2018 well underway, I’d like to review five important experience trends that are bound to make a deep impact this year and will likely continue to define the way in which apps are developed in the years ahead.

 

1. Being Content-Centered

 

Our clients often look to us for the most effective means of distributing their content in a way that services the users and provides the client with reliable and quality data.

“Time is of the essence” has never been a truer statement. Users have super-short attention spans (Hubspot reports only about 8 seconds or so) that shrink more every year. Seconds matter – so while design can be pretty, more importantly, it needs to be purposeful. If we aren’t designing to make the content the most important aspect of each screen, then we are failing our clients and most importantly, users.

While designing around content that has yet to be provided is far from ideal, there are a few workarounds. You can always default to the popular Lorem Ipsum placeholder text, or you could try using the content that’s being replaced from your client’s current site, create your own, or borrow from a competitor’s site.

By using text and color as interactive design elements, you can strategically create quick, vibrant, and delightful user experiences that expedite the user’s journey with a content-centered experience. Keep it simple. You don’t want to overwhelm your users with too much information.

This insurance app does a great job of displaying multiple options in a visually simple way, both in a tab and main menu format.

 

content-centered-insurance-app

Image Credit: Nimasha Perara

2. Personalization

 

Personalization is one of the most frequently requested features in user interviews. Weather content, design, or navigation, users like to feel connected with the user interface. If there’s a pattern of disconnect, they will likely not want to return, especially given a user’s ever-shrinking attention span.

Personalization can be achieved in a number of ways, including:

  • Enabling cookies on websites to remember what users prefer on your site
  • Implementing location tools on mobile to remind users of their interests
  • Incorporating the seasons or holidays to create a user experience that feels current and relative, and allowing users to create profiles to customize their experience.

More often than not, people are more inclined to share negative experiences than positive ones, so it is imperative that we are creating a more intuitive experience for our users. If users feel a connection with a website or app, they will want to return and hopefully share their positive experiences.

The animation below highlights one of Shockoe’s latest customizable interfaces for a banking application. We helped create a mobile experience that allowed members to customize which cards they land on first, allowing users to get their most important information faster.

 

shockoe-banking-app-personalization

3. Voice Interaction

 

There is no denying the impact that Siri, Alexa, and Google have made on our usability. My seven-year-old daughter chats up Alexa regularly — asking for songs, to make animal noises, and even a few weeks back, asked if she was married! I find this to be a testament to what next-generation interaction looks like and the importance of adopting it sooner rather than later.

Over 30 million households now have voice interaction tools, which is incredible! The rise of voice interaction will undoubtedly drive the increase of designing without an interface. Good UX seeks the path of least resistance, and voice interaction certainly bypasses any friction that may have existed in a physical UI.

[bctt tweet=”Over 30 million households now have voice interaction tools,” username=”shockoe”]

When designing for voice interactions, experienced designers will need to to take into account many new considerations. Providing users with suggestions may help alleviate confusion when the system doesn’t understand the command or cannot produce the desired result. For example, you could have a retail app say: “You can ask to order shoes or browse shoes.” You should also consider providing the user with an easy way out by offering “leave” as an option.

Is the mic even on? Users will need to know when the AI they’re chatting with is paying attention and when there might be a problem.

 

voice-interaction

Image Credit: Juan C. Angustia

4. Microinteractions

 

Engaging with microinteractions is one of my favorite things when using an app. Microinteractions are simply subtle design effects based around completing a task. These tiny interactions bring a level of delight to a user experience. If implemented correctly, these in-app gestures and animations can reduce design clutter, increase intuitiveness, and make interaction almost seamless. Fewer buttons on a screen mean more focused content, and we all know that having the right content, is king.

Medium has a controversial “clapping” interaction, as an alternative way to “like” an article you’ve read. Love them or hate them, these tiny claps with fireworks are both silly and cute enough to have caused a plethora of blog posts both praising and cursing the change from “likes” to “claps”. Humans inherently hate change, so it’s not surprising that bloggers took to the Internet to vent about this change, just as they did with Instagram’s iconic logo change a few years back. Change is sometimes a necessary evil — it’s where great ideas stem from. I for one applaud medium for taking the bold step to attempt to improve usability.

With microinteractions, there is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the user and the app through fun and satisfying actions that leave users emotionally content – they help engage users to interact with tasks intuitively, like express appreciation with likes or favorites, navigate sites with subtle animated transitions, or filling out form fields with hint text.

Predictive microinteractions can provide directive animations to assist users with onboarding, making it more delightful and ultimately, less confusing

 

microinteractions

Image Credit: Leo Zakour

5. Fullscreen & Vertical Video

 

In 2017, the use of videos surged as a marketing medium. Hubspot reports that 81% of businesses utilized videos as a marketing tool and nearly 100% of those businesses say they’ll continue to do so in 2018. 65% of the businesses that didn’t use videos in 2017 say they are planning to in 2018.

Words are important, but with videos, users are able to experience a more interactive form of content while also consuming more information in a shorter amount of time. This is another form of putting content front and center in a way that doesn’t force users to scroll. With AR and VR becoming more common, a full-screen video will inevitably become the norm, providing users with a more immersive: personally-impactful experience that will give them more of an emotional connection. When users are immersed in another person’s experience, be it skiing the slopes, walking in an impassioned protest, exploring caves, or learning a new DIY project, they are bound to have a richer and deeper connection with the content.

As video content infiltrates our favorite sites and apps, users tend to keep their mobile devices in portrait mode, rather than turning them horizontally for a full-width view. According to LukeW, 94% of users view their content in portrait mode, while only 6% view content in landscape mode, thus the obvious need to provide users with the option to view all content, including video, in portrait mode.

Apple’s new Clip app offers users fullscreen AR selfies similar to Snapchat’s World Lenses. Mashable reports that Clip will offer an animated 360° scene that you can experience by moving the camera around.

 

fullscreen-vertical-app-video

Image Credit: Apple

 

facebook-live-video-app

Facebook Live Video. Image Credit Buzzfeed

Other Experience Trend Shoutouts

 

Since I couldn’t list every single popular experience trend to look for in 2018 and beyond, I wanted to at least show some love to a couple more experiences worth mentioning.

AR and VR

Quickly evolving into affordable and viable options for both enterprises and consumers. Whether you’re looking for augmented/virtual entertainment or augmented/virtual training, this medium has yet to surface its full potential. As AR and VR continue to find great ubiquity and user acceptance, think about how this technology could advance the medical, construction, aeronautics, and engineering fields in the years ahead.

Biometrics

It may seem new, and it sort of is, but since Apple released the iPhone X’s biometric face identification feature, it appears the bar has risen in security authentication. Fingerprint authorization is now common in comparison. Biometrics will continue to innovate and demand designers and developers to push the envelope when considering the user’s privacy and security concerns. Designers will need to keep in mind the willingness of their users to participate in the functionality and devs will need to remember that biometrics don’t protect against passcodes or tokens being shared. They’re simply new ways for users to gain access to their data without being too inconvenienced with passcode interruptions.