customer experience, mobile phones
Your app runs in a little square.

All the money you spend on developers, design teams, content production and infrastructure for your app essentially boils down to a little square. Sometimes it’s a bigger square. Sometimes it’s more of a rectangle. And sometimes your app is responsive and tries to adjust itself as the square changes shape.

But in the end, your brand's communications still come down to that little square.

We're fortunate that this is still considered cutting edge. This keeps us employed. After all, there was a time when consumers lavished praise on black-and-white television and 16-color EGA video -- and people were employed then, too.

We live at a time when people are somehow content to bow their heads and squint at these little squares. Whether they’re sitting on a train or walking through an airport, people appear to be more interested in what’s happening in that tiny square than what’s happening around them.

The next time you go to a concert, take a look around at all of the people who paid for tickets to “see” their favorite band. And now take notice of how people behave. In many cases, people are “seeing” their favorite bands through the viewports of their iPhones or Androids. They constrain their experience to 640 pixels by willingly inserting that little square between themselves and the experience.

Capturing the moment … at the expense of being in the moment?

Mobile is Meaningless

This isn’t going to last. In the same way that 256-color VGA was mind-blowing upon first viewing or the introduction of CD-ROM meant you could actually have an entire multimedia encyclopedia on your computer (thus was it claimed), consumers will not be content with tiny little squares for very long.

In the months and years to come, the mobile and web applications industry is going to see a dramatic shift in how things are designed and built. Instead of building applications that are assumed to run on a mobile surface, a new generation of tools and infrastructure will arise that allows for applications to be built that run across a wide array of devices, mediums and form factors -- all at the same time.

Gone will be the assumption that devices and screens are one and the same. A device may no longer have a screen. It might be auditory, holographic or perceptive. The device might serve only as a source of information rather than a target for publication.

A new generation of applications will speak and listen to multiple devices at the same time, no matter whether those mediums of communication are conventional touch, auditory, visual, holographic, wearable, textual or derived automatically from implicit and correlated context around user behavior.

Next-generation applications won’t be “mobile.” Mobile is meaningless. Every device is mobile and everyone is always on the move. No single surface is ever always on or always in front of your audience.

The customer’s natural interaction with the world is now one where no single mobile device sits between the customer and the experience. The interaction is spread out over lots of devices and lots of mediums.

Your App is a Cartridge

Remember the Atari 2600? An app is like a cartridge.

Imagine if your company’s app shipped like a cartridge. To interact with your company, they first have to go to the store to buy the cartridge for your company. Even if you gave it away for free, it’s still inconvenient. It doesn’t map to natural behavior. It doesn’t make sense today.

When everything is connected and information moves seamlessly between devices, the burden is on your company to provide value. The burden isn’t on the customer to change the way they behave to satisfy your app.

The customer interacts where the customer interacts. Not with your app.

There is no more app.

The effectiveness of your company’s customer reach is measured by its ability to deliver value to the customer with less friction than the competition. The emphasis is on minimal changes to natural behavior. Your brand, content and value-add must happen on the multitude of devices that they interact with. And certainly without requiring people to squint and struggle with little plastic squares of light.

It’s already begun. The arrival of HUD devices like Google Glass, wearable products like Jawbone, in-home cloud-connected appliances and floor and wall-panel interactive displays already signal that we’re in an age where the customer experience is being distributed across many different surfaces and devices.

Decoupling Content from Presentation

A similar shift happened to the newspaper and magazine industry around 1994. Many didn’t notice it and those that did were largely helpless to do much about it. By 1999, many of these companies were going out of business. Their customers had moved on to the Internet. It simply wasn’t a natural fit to have to go to the store to buy a paper magazine to be a customer.

Why pay for the formatting, presentation and packaging (not to mention the endless advertising) of the physical magazine when the information is really all they care about?

Going forward, it’s all about the value-add of information.

Companies that thrive in this new paradigm will be those that get serious about the value of the information they provide to the outside world and also consume from the outside world. They see themselves as information companies. They invest in their content and the infrastructure needed to curate and distribute information to their customers as they hop from device to device.

These companies know that it’s not simply about content. It’s about the content getting to the user at the right time and the right place so as to provide information that enhances their experience or informs their buying decision. It’s about being helpful and adding value without introducing any friction.

To achieve this, companies must first acknowledge the need to decouple presentation from their content. Content must be designed for its reuse across as many devices as possible -- even future devices that we don’t know about today. This content will be data-centric, consisting of rich metadata, classifiers, attributes and graph relationships.

In this sense, informational content is best organized much more like a catalog system than a web CMS. The platform provides an informational backbone to feed APIs and services that interact with the outside world. It pushes data to devices and pulls data from interaction streams, learning from real-time human touches to update heuristics and enhance personalized content delivery on a per-customer basis.

By focusing on the raw informational advantage, these companies will intentionally decouple presentation from their data. The legacy assumption of HTML or the web as a means for delivering content is simply no longer true. Presentation elements like CSS, HTML, page layout, and templates have no place in an informational system. Those presentation elements will be managed separately.

Content workers will focus on the raw information advantage that their content provides. They won’t know ahead of time how it will be presented. They won’t really have to care and it also will be increasingly difficult to predict. After all, if there are 7 billion people on the planet, you might imagine the same information being presented 7 billion different ways! Those presentation decisions are made elsewhere, usually on the device itself.

Developers who sit down to build the delivery of the customer experience must increasingly look at things in a completely different way. Rather than working from the top down by thinking of how the presentation should look, they’ll work from the bottom up. They’ll start with the data. The first major deliverable will be the data services and data structures so as to enable as many downstream devices as possible to consume, reuse and deliver this content in helpful and profitable ways.

Look At All Those Phones…

In 20 years time, we may very well look back and point to 2014 as the sunset of single surface apps. We’ll do a double take when we look at all those pictures of people at concerts holding up phones. How strange. Did we really used to do that?

Exciting times are ahead for Content Management. We’ve already crossed the threshold into the next big thing.