Omniscience and oblivion.

Recently I was asked about where I think user experience is headed. After giving it some thought, I was able to distill my idea about it down to a fairly concise dichotomy. Obviously it centers on mobile computing, and the two most interesting parts of it (to me) are:

  1. Presenting information to the user in a contextually relevant way without much (if any) external interaction on his/her part
  2. Increasing security and/or ensuring that the loop for transactional activities is closed, in the face of continued compromises of sensitive financial information

There are two products that exemplify these goals in the market right now, supplied by two companies whose philosophies couldn’t be more divergent, but yet are intertwined: Google Now and Apple Pay. Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly–this is not going to be a “who’s better” post. It’s simply an examination of two different approaches to solving two big problems for users. The biggest difference being the diametrically opposed underpinnings of how the two technologies work.

Google Now’s promise is that if you hook your life into Google’s services, the massive intelligence behind those services will parse as much as possible from what you provide and surface information to you at the most relevant times possible, without you even having to lift a finger. Apple Pay creates a bubble of security around each purchase that you conduct with it, allowing for unique financial transactions, hiding your identity and information from merchants and potential data theft. Both are amazing in their own ways, and both edge ever closer to the fuzzy, nostalgic ideals that the World’s Fairs of yesteryear told us the future would bring.

The difference is that one service wants to know every single thing it possibly can about you to build a world of information around your activities, and the other wants to purposefully know as little as possible about you so that it can obfuscate the sensitive information that passes between two parties during a financial transaction.

I’m enthralled by both of these worlds, but to date, I’ve only embraced one of them. As we continue into the future, and more of our personal information–even the most innocuous bits–exist on the servers of other companies, I become wary of how and when it will be used. I’m not kept up at night thinking about it, but I’m still far more comfortable using Apple Pay for a purchase than dumping everything about myself into Google so I can find out if my flight is late, or how long it will take me to get home. Those examples are rather trite, but it illustrates my point: the two aspects of software that I’ve outlined are both insanely cool and interesting to me, but the overall value I can derive today is far higher with Apple Pay. More importantly, I’m left wondering how I can enjoy the benefits of something like Google Now without sacrificing my feelings about my data. I just don’t know if it’s possible, and I may change my mind about how I feel down the road.

I’ve been fascinated with technology throughout my entire life. It’s a source of creativity and consternation. Amazement and horror. It always has been and always will be a series of trade-offs and opposing forces. I think as we try to solve more of our problems in these new ways, the two ends of the spectrum get pulled closer together, and I’m not sure how that makes me feel. I’m along for the ride, though, until I pull the ripcord and go live on a beach in blissful, ignorant solitude. Until then, my fingerprint is my passport. Verify me.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.