Designing Intuitive Mobile Apps Using Machine Input
This article was originally published on Linked In.
Walk in to any Café Coffee Day outlet. The staff entices you, the customer with a 10% discount on the final bill if you install their app. Thereafter, on every visit to Café Coffee Day, the staffs asks you to ‘Show App at counter’ to get more offers and earn bean rewards.
The customer, now has to do perform below steps in roughly the same order:
Pull out the phone out of the pocket / handbag
Wake the phone up
Unlock the phone
Close apps that were left open
Swim through an ocean of icons / screens to find Café Coffee Day app
Tap on the app icon to launch it
Look for that elusive ‘Show App at counter’ bar
Show it off to the staff [who probably offer 1 buck off for every bean you have accumulated and add more beans for the recent purchase you just made]
Imagine, you visit one such shop with your family, with some bags around, toddlers/kids who are pestering you to order their favorite croissants, your phone in one hand and wallet in another, and then Café Coffee Day asks you to perform this whole circus of eight steps or more.
Well, you need to earn your discount. How else would you do that, if not for the circus? This experience left me thinking how can this be changed? Can we somehow walk into Café Coffee Day, place an order and the app/staff can automagically credit beans/discount to me and spare me the circus?
Can sensors do that? Can someone tell the staff that a customer just walked in with her phone, where the app is already installed and dying to be launched? Can the staff remember her face and app id somehow and create this magic manually, or even better magically?
How Square Wallet solved this problem by Jack Dorsey
Square Wallet, a company founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey does this kind of magic. The customer can walk in to any store, and the merchant actually gets a notification that the customer is in the store and that he had a cappuccino last time and every single time. So the merchant can actually start making the cappuccino and say, 'Here Pari, here's your cappuccino,' and then it's done. It's super simple. And that's what builds loyalty. That's what keeps people coming back.... You go to the same store again and again, they know your name, they greet you with a smile, and they know your order. It's amazing.
Applying Machine Input to Flight Booking Apps
Mobile apps can be as smart as the Square Wallet app using machine input.
Machine input is the information that digital devices find on their own, whenever and wherever possible.
Many input methods like radio, sensors, camera, APIs, web browsers and many others collect actionable information rather than adding more screens or dropdown menus. Consider the context of a mobile flight booking app like MeRCI. Here is how machine input can be put to use:
Auto-default nearest airport based on current location
Auto-suggest all nearby airports
Auto-populate frequently used airports
Save previous search information for subsequent use if booking is incomplete
Auto-fill forms from passport using camera
Support smart defaults like Country, Language, Currency, Zip Code, Country Code etc.
Contextual keypads for input fields like text, password, email and website which need different characters like *, @, ., / etc. to be typed in
Expense Management Using Camera
Auto-stamp location on receipts
Auto-sync flight information to calendar
Provide disruption information to passengers
Inform users which blocks of time are available on calendar to pursue something at airports or in flight.
Guiding passengers based on location and barometer
Alerting travelers on clothing and transportation
Underground maps at train stations
Indoor maps in shopping malls
Smarter audio tours
Suppose, you are traveling to Finland. You look up the weather app and it says that the week you are in Finland, the temperature is 5 degrees Celsius. So many websites, apps and weather tools do that. Is that cool? Perhaps not. If the flight booking app that booked my flight ticket can look up the weather tools (APIs) on its own and tell me 1 week prior to my trip, “Hey Pari, Finland is unusually cold next week with all the unexpected snow, particularly on 4th Feb. You might want to pack lots of warm clothes.” Or even better. “Hey Pari, there is an unexpected storm in and around Helsinki. Here is an alternate hotel you can book without any additional charges.” Now, this is COOL!
Above listed possibilities are just the tip of the iceberg. Machine input, if used to its power can rid the apps of innumerable interfaces and scores of options and create humanizing experiences. Remember, Good experience design isn’t good screens. Its good experiences.