Back in the day (oh, six or seven years ago) when mobile device technology still had that magical patina, one of its first awe-inspiring tricks was seamlessness. For most of us it came with Netflix’s wondrous ability to track your pause point across phone, tablet, PC and set-top box. It was clear to some of us even back then that mobility was offering up new media experiences, not just more screens. We were moving toward a stage in communications history where people had the tools to craft personalized, fully portable media environments. As more of our content moved into the cloud and off of individual devices, each screen simply became a portal onto a unified set of personal content. TV, radio, music, news, etc. were not tethered to specific types of technology, places or circumstances.
Seamlessness is addictive, and it still has that touch of original mobile magic to it. Because of Apple Music, iCloud, and a pile of Apple devices, I can just bark my musical wants and needs at Siri no matter where I am and get instance access to all of my own playlists as well as millions of albums and tracks. With my iCloud-connected Apple Watch and iPhone in turn connected to my in-car audio, for instance, I can tell Siri to call up a playlist, play any imaginable track or album that strokes me, and then have those tastes and history reflected later in my Apple Music apps on phone or PC. I am still getting accustomed to the sheer coolness of that.
But during my workday, it turns out that audio is the seamless bridge I most need among devices. I have my phone, desktop PC and laptop all in play at once. I may be listening to music on my high-end headphones on my PC when a mobile call comes in that requires an awkward technical juggle. Headphones are de rigueur in my household because no one here wants to listen to my oddball tastes in swing music, Saturday morning cartoon soundtracks and Cole Porter. I need strong speech recognition for speech-to-text rendering and calling. And since the set is also used for the game consoles and music listening I was looking for something with much better audio performance than the typical Bluetooth headset.
It turns out that combination of functionality is not easy to find. Wireless cans with great musical fidelity from companies like Apple Beats or Sennheiser, I discovered, could handle basic phone calling but were not designed for the higher-end needs of voice recognition and speech to text dictation. Bluetooth mobile headsets rarely even consider audio quality.
In search of a true seamless experience I settled on the Plantronics Voyager Focus US, a wireless multipurpose headset that has good noise canceling for office work, much better than typical audio performance, and sensitive voice input. But what really sold me on this particular set was its ability to hand off smartly across devices. When the thing works well, the headset can bounce across PC input automatically to my iPhone when a call comes in. Likewise, when nothing is playing from my phone, it will kick over to my PC to render the audio of the YouTube clip I just started. I can move across to the Mac laptop and it will hand off control, usually in accordance with my activity. And that is the key here. Seamlessness relies on the technology correctly interpreting your current priority, the screen that commands your attention.
In a rudimentary way, this kind of audio seamlessness anticipates the ways in which home automation and a responsive Internet of things ultimately will behave. The user’s small behaviors become the signals for the technology of change states for you. As you move through your home, the smart house will follow you, with your environment profile (room tem, audio, video preferences. You become the mobile agent, not the technology.
It seems to me that the sensation of seamlessness has some implications for media and marketing. This is a dynamic in which the technology is clearly responding to physical circumstance and even something as subtle as attention. I was spoiled easily by this unified media field in my everyday life. I wear headphones as the bridge across multiple screens throughout the day, and so the media follow me and even change states accordingly. I have to say that even after a couple of months in this personalized media shell (which is what it feels like) I miss it when I travel without it. This is where relationships are born, where technology and service starts to feel like a true companion or concierge. The technology or service that anticipates need is the one that has a genuine claim on having that much touted rarely legitimate "relationship" with me.
Marketers and their agencies like to claim they are in the business of making “experiences” for consumers now. But as usual, I am not sure they fully appreciate the buzzword they are throwing around. Instead of building discrete encounters that extol the benefits of their product, perhaps they should enable and target the experiences people already value.