I attended a marquee startup event in Bengaluru last week and after having listened to a lot of really smart start-up entrepreneurs and thought leaders I have come to the chance conclusion that the future could well not be what they are thinking of or are building towards.
Now, I agree that it is easy to pick a random end-scenario out of thin air and build a biased thesis around the journey towards it. In any case, this is my thesis.
As of today, an army of smart minds are trying to solve problems that are currently relevant to around 2 billion people today and hoping that the solution will become relevant to an upwardly mobile 6 billion over the coming decades.
A vast multitude of apps are being launched to capture the ‘smartphone ready’ user who wants to make her life easier and more effective. Then there are the aggregating apps that harp about being clever replacements to the aforesaid multitude. All at my beck and call.
When I opened the email invite for the event, I did the following.
I checked the dates of the event. When I found the time a few days later, I checked the cost of flights on a flight aggregator site and the cost of hotels across a few hotel aggregating sites / apps. Then I paid for the event registration and purchased my much-researched flights/hotels through a mix of in-site payment gateways and my much beloved suite of payment wallets. Boom.!
A day before my flight I got an email asking me to check in. The purpose of this I still have to understand considering that almost 98.7 percent of people who haven’t cancelled their tickets turn up for their flights anyways and usually with the same number of declared baggage and dietary intolerances. (Ok the statistics are just my estimate but I am willing to bet my best whisky that I wont be very far from the actual number).
I then book my cab to the airport through a cab aggregator and do the same at Bengaluru airport to get to the hotel.
So the whole trip has meant that I accessed around 7 apps and my bank account was touched around 5 times by just as many vendors.
Now, let me put it out there that while I am grateful for not having to deal with writing cheques to travel agents and calling up twenty three hotels and taxi providers, it does seem a little excessive for my technology spoilt efficiency (spelled laziness) seeking self.
Now, picture this.
I open the email with the event invite and along with the email I get a single pop up giving me a complete itinerary of cheapest flights available (based on my flyer points ) for that date (taking into consideration what my commitments are, through my calendar) and the best hotels available (based on my past preferences in the city or proximity to the event venue). I consider the five end-to-end options and drag and drop my preferred options into a section and click ‘Go’. An integrated backend genie pays for and books the event tickets, the flight tickets and hotels, and sends me all the receipts, tickets and booking details in one email. It also auto-checks me in a day before the flight and prompts me for a cab-pick up from my house taking into account traffic and real time flight schedules. It also prompts me to have a cab waiting as soon as I exit the airport courtesy a proximity sensor that is triggered when my bag reaches me at the airport conveyor belt.
Seamless. No apps. No logins.
If you think of it, all the pieces of this fantasy jigsaw exist in some form or shape today. Google sifts through your email and suggests best-fit products, travel and taxi apps exist in every shade and size and a plethora of IOT devices track everything from the temperature of your freezer to the alcohol content in your blood system through your skin.
It is in the interweaving of all of the above that true technology nirvana can be found. Tech will then melt away into the background, powerful, seamless and out of sight.
Ecommerce could mean you mentioning to your device (yes sadly there may need to be one, even if its just a feature phone or a wearable) that you need a white shirt. When you reach home, or for that matter your car, and switch on the TV, you are shown just the 5 top designs of white shirts across ecommerce sites, curated with what the provider knows about your past preferences in terms of brands, style and price tantrums.
Foodtech companies could freely distribute refrigerators and televisions with the agreement to track your food and grocery consumption and provide restocking services much cheaper than your grocery delivery app. You could walk into a restaurant, integrated with your digital persona and simply order your food by saying it out loud enough for your device to listen in. The food order is sent to the kitchen, prepared and delivered to your table. At the end of the meal, you ask for a taxi home and your device books the earliest cab and alerts you when it has arrived outside the restaurant. You simply get up and walk out in true Amazon-Go style and let your digital money manager do its job.
Fintech services will monitor your complete financial health and with proper one-time consent, auto-invest your money through algorithm based investing. Tracking and balancing your portfolio based on performance, alerting you only in case of key decisions and even financing your cash shortfalls with the best rates from P2P lenders by scanning the market for the best deal for your pre-evaluated credit profile are a few things that will happen without requiring your constant intervention.
Health tracking wearables will track your body vitals and in case you are stressed, over a few weeks, will suggest a quick relaxing getaway based on what it knows you love to do. In more extreme health diagnosis it will automatically book a health check up at your preferred medical centre.
All of the above is possible if there was a single, integrated, machine learning backend that could aggregate not just across the search category but across the intent of the user. Own the whole experience not just parts of it.
That and of course the real lubricant of the future, data.
The real metric of technology in the future will then become how little time people spend on the app or service. This is the complete opposite of what start ups are trying to do today, what with their relentless focus on engaging user interfaces and increasing time spent on the app.
The quest for the invisible app experience will mean a furious consolidation and integration of services that exist across silos today.
If I were to choose my agents for this change I would choose the likes of a Google for the massive data trawling and analytics involved, Apple/Microsoft for the user-facing device design and Amazon for the aggregation, logistics and payments. The rest of the startups can be backend service providers feeding into a single integrated user-facing device.
Of course this may mean new regulations on data privacy and sharing, with a proven, individual-based, consent artefact that will give providers access to all my digital exhaust.
Personally, I would rather share ALL my data with one super-secure vendor than with the countless apps that glean all sorts of data from me, sometimes unknowingly with clauses that are hidden away under monumental piles of terms and conditions.
The time has arrived for technology to stop taking up too much of my time. We have all felt the need for digital detox at some point lately. All we really want technology to do is fade away in the background and allow us to live an uninterrupted life ,the way it was always meant to be, albeit a little technology assisted.
Leaving us with enough time to ponder about why, as a human race we still haven’t managed to standardize the 15 different types of electrical plug pins across geographies.