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Panel: Technologies developed over next decade need more 'romance'

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The key to social media these days could be personalization, but the success of new technologies developed over the next 10 years mig...

SAN FRANCISCO -- The key to social media these days could be personalization, but the success of new technologies developed over the next 10 years might depend upon something much more idealistic: romance.

During a panel discussion hosted by General Electric and Monocle on Tuesday morning about how personal technology will evolve over the course of the next 10 years, one theme that emerged was the importance of producing new solutions that resonate on an emotional level with consumers.

The panel's moderator, Andrew Tuck from Monocle, offered an example of a recent experience where a friend recommended him to a wine shop in San Francisco because it had a record player.

Tuck couldn't understand why his friend was recommending a shop based on an old-fashioned music player in a tech-savvy metropolis, but the friend replied that a lot of new products these days "have no romance."

"That's what's being lost in this technological change," admitted Tuck.

David Lieb, CEO and co-founder of Bump Technologies, acknowledged that there is a risk when you build technology to solve problems that lose the tangible thing that people care about.

However, Lieb argued that Bump, an app that allows users to exchange digital business cards simply by bumping their smartphones together, actually doesn't violate this idea. Instead, he said it offers a "magical experience that retains the romance of connecting with a new person while getting ride of the hassle you used to have."

Jeff Jordan, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, cited Instagram, a mobile app that can alter digital photos with vintage camera-like filters, as a great example of a product that "keeps romance and that warm feeling."

"It's a question of product and design more than a question of technology," Jordan said, arguing that the best design taps into an emotion.

Bill Ruh, a vice president at GE, added that "hardware is shrink-wrapped to the user experience," explaining that it's imporant to strike a chord with the consumer. Ruh also emphasized the important of the user interface just as much as the technology.

Lieb also pointed towards the digital thermostat Nest as an example of a device that brings new technology into an older product while solving real problems and hassles.

One of the problems that might be standing in the way of the development those technologies is the manpower. As discussed earlier in the day during a panel about the Maker Movement, there is an initiative to encourage and teach building hardware for a reason.

Lieb acknowledged that we still need big companies like GE to build our engines. But it's questionable how many smart graduates are coming out of college with a stronger interested in hardware over software.

Ruh concurred by pointing out that the barrier to creating a product (notably software) is much lower than before, poining towards how many iPhone apps are out there alone.

"Brand is going to be even more important in the past because it's very hard for someone to wade through 500,000 different iPad apps," Ruh posited.

Then again, over the course of the next 10 years, online brands might be more important than we could imagine.

Recalling that 10 years ago we still shopped at computer and record stores, Jordan predicted that "the mall will not be here," and we probably won't be using a lot of cash in 10 years.

Jordan added, "The pace at which things can move can be quite astonishing."

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Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.