Transformative Computing

Increased rates of digitization are leading to tech design changes that enable dynamic customization of the user experience. Take for example SwiftKey, an Android app that replaces the default Android keyboard on your device. Swiftkey learns not only what you say and how you say it (including across multiple communication channels like SMS, email, or Twitter), but also the physical way in which you say it. Always hitting the wrong key? SwiftKey will reshape the keys to improve the accuracy of your typing. As Ben Medlock, SwiftKey’s cofounder and CTO put it, “A new range of tools are required to solve a new class of problems that didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

I call this new class of tools transformative computing. As hardware becomes software, or rather what were once hardware features become software features, the change of these features from analog to digital allows changes to the user experience to happen in continuum rather than in a stepwise process which is what was required when hardware had to replace hardware. In the case of SwiftKey the physical keyboard has been replaced by a digital keyboard which allows change to be dynamic and continuous based upon user interaction with the device.

Transformative computing also impacts services. Look at how services like Netflix try to provide unique, customized recommendations to each user within a subscription. The recommendation engine (ie the algorithms) can be applied to each viewer ultimately because the entire experience is digital. Video games like Far Cry 3 are also building in more robust dynamics that cause elements of the digital experience to change based upon what the user does within the game. But some of the most interesting early applications of transformative computing is happening when analog hardware features are replaced by its digital counterpart.

The ‘sensor’ization of consumer tech plays a key role in enabling transformative computing.  Nest Thermostats for example utilize embedded sensors to adjust settings that historically would have needed to be physically adjusted by users. The Eversense thermostat can pull down the GPS coordinates from your phone and make adjustments based upon your proximity to your home. The Jawbone up features an idle alert that will alert you if you’ve been sedentary too long and the smart alarm feature is designed to wake you up when you are in a stake of light sleep around a pre-specified time. The forthcoming explosion of gesture, motion, and voice capturing capabilities that is now being embedded into devices will digitize a myriad of hardware features into software features. These features push forward the growth of transformative computing.

The push towards more personal devices also aids the move towards transformative computing. As we move from utility devices like shared desktop computers to personal devices like individually owned and used smartphones and tablets the customization of the user experience becomes more pronounced. A number of apps are starting to appear that provide a contextual user experience.