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What the hell is Zero UI and what does it say about our future?

(TECH NEWS) You’ve probably started hearing people talking about “Zero UI” more and more. What does it mean? Let’s find out together.

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The new buzz word

Everyone got a Google Home or Amazon Echo for the holidays and now I keep hearing the term “Zero UI” pop up. What does it mean? Prior to researching for this story I had no idea either, so don’t feel like a dim bulb – let’s learn together!

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Natural language and gestures

Zero UI focuses on interacting with technology in more natural ways, moving away from a screen-focused experience. Technology is now learning our language rather than vice versa.

So instead of providing stilted commands to our phones and devices, we can speak in a more human way or simply gesture.

Andy Goodman, who coined the term, explains “humans have always had to interact with machines in a really abstract, complex way.” Zero UI utilizes haptics, voice control, artificial intelligence, and voice control elements to make the whole experience more human.

In command, in control

Right now, voice control is at the forefront of the Zero UI goal. Although voice commands have been around for quite a while now, we’re seeing the most promising results in futuristic home technology through more integrated uses of it.

It turns out I’m not just imagining hearing Alexa’s name more frequently than usual this year. Amazon reported millions of Alexa devices were sold this holiday season. Sales for the Amazon Echo family were up nine times from last year and the Google Home devices spent some time on backorder in stores. Zero UI devices are quickly gaining traction with consumers.

As devices begin to interact with us in a more normal way, they move from a trendy piece of technology to an integral part of our lives.Click To Tweet

Goodman believes the future of Zero UI requires designing in a multi-demensional way–literally. He explains designers need to consider not just the 2D, linear way consumers use their products, but instead consider every possible interaction.

Devices must adapt to our stream-of-consciousness ways of interacting with them if they want to stay relevant. This includes not just voice commands, but more intuitive body language recognition systems.

Beyond the screen

Goodman notes zero UI devices will “need to have access to a lot of behavioral data, let alone the processing power to decode them.” Additionally, non-linear design is going to require completely different sets of skills than current app design. Designers will need to think beyond the screen when it comes to programming devices in order to create a highly adaptable device.

A quick note

While Zero UI does sound promising, Goodman assures that it’s not meant to be taken literally as a term.

User interface of some kind will always be present. It’s really a matter of moving away from screens, not the complete elimination of user interface.

#ZeroUI

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jack Smith

    January 20, 2017 at 6:39 am

    The problem for Echo/Alexa is the foundation difference. Google built theirs based on inference and NOT commands.

    So with Google Home you just talk naturally and say what you want. Wife can say it one way and I a completely different way and get the same result.

    We have had the Echo since it was launched and now have several of the Google Homes. We keep the Echo in the kitchen and then Google Homes in our bedroom and then the kids have their in their bedrooms.

    My fav feature right now is the ability to stay warm under the covers and control the TV. Just started working last week without me adding a skill or anything.

    Actually wife discoverd when watching a movie and kid walked into our room. Not sure if she was joking as she now does in situation that Google Home is NOT available. So like sitting at a traffic light she will say “hey google change light green”. She said “hey google pause” and the movie paused. When kid left she said “hey google rewind” and it went back some set amount.

    The Echo is a great piece of technology but the Google Home is just different as it seems to have more of a brain inside.

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Tech News

Beautiful new wellness app takes a more holistic approach

(TECHNOLOGY) Using tech to help with wellness is nothing new, but this app takes a more holistic approach to help you balance.

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There are thousands of health and fitness apps in various marketplaces, so what distinguishes between them is often a matter of personal taste. Much like the variety of organizational apps, I find that picking a wellness app involves much the same process – what works for you? What do you need? What are your wellness goals? And so on.

I spent a few days with the new wellness app, Wellbody, and I will say I am fifty/fifty. I love the approach and philosophy of Wellbody. Take a look at their fundamental tenants:

  • We believe in progress over perfection
  • We believe in small, simple, and sustainable behavior change
  • We believe that with mindful practice, people can do amazing things
  • We believe that real change starts with being mindful…and is maintained through creating healthy habits
  • We take a holistic view across the five major pillars of health: nutrition, exercise and movement, sleep, stress management, and connection
  • We believe everyone deserves access to better health and wellness
  • We want to help you live life well

As a person who is incredibly engaged in their own wellness and trying to figure out how to do that, I believe fully in this model. Holistic perspectives on health are important for anyone.

However, a holistic perspective may mean some people perceive this app as having a lack of focus. It is foundational, so it is not a workout plan, or calorie counter, etc. It’s primarily educational. And the content is actually good. The foundation series are well narrated, and I think it does a good job of level setting and providing information.

It does have a daily quote and a little daily experiment (which I think is a good add). The content library is growing, and the sessions outside of the foundational session are great (I loved the “Mindfulness vs. Meditation” piece)

However, there are a few challenges I have right away.

First, the sessions don’t have any good visuals, summaries, or much of anything else.

Also, the daily experiment has been rather vague. Yes, I understand that it is a mindfulness app, but the challenges are more pondering and less practice.

Most critically – without an internet connection you can’t listen to this. So if you are on a plane, or on a limited reception subway, or are away from Wi-Fi, you can’t listen to any of the content. That’s a glaring issue, and it is too easy to turn to other podcasts or apps who we can listen to the content without an active internet connection. It makes it harder to open this app everyday, which is important for the way it works.

I think Wellbody has the concept down – what’s missing is more content. There needs to be more specific content, maybe a journaling feature, etc. I would recommend this app for anyone who is starting a wellness journey, or maybe is re-evaluating what kinds of health changes they are trying to make. If you need a diet tracker, or exercise plan, this is going to be less helpful. However, if you are trying to change the way we look at wellness, this is a great place to start.

Side Note: I love the visual design of this app, which is a weird cross between Zen and an episode of Fixer Upper (I love all of the designs at Target, y’all).

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Tech News

What’s TikTok, why’s it so huge, and why is Facebook scared of it?

(TECH) TikTok has taken the internet by storm – you’ve probably seen the videos floating around, so here’s the context your business needs to know.

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Jimmy Fallon challenged his viewers to his version of a #sharpiechallenge. That’s where you toss a sharpie into the air, catch it, take the cap off and draw a mustache on yourself with it. He requested that viewers use TikTok to record it and upload it.

As of this writing, the hashtag boasts 8.2 million views in TikTok alone – if it wasn’t big before it gained Fallon as a fan, it is now.

What Is TikTok?

The TikTok app is the brainchild of Bytedance, a Chinese company that once owned Muscal.ly, and it launched in September 2016 as Douyin (it’s Chinese moniker). When it launched internationally, a year later, they branded the social media app TikTok. When Musical.ly shut down, users had to switch.

The app lets users view, create and share 15-second videos (kind of like Vine, RIP). It’s estimated that there are over 500 million users worldwide. The app has been highly ranked in the charts for number of downloads over the past few months, with a spike when Fallon had his first challenge, #tumbleweedchallenge. (For the record, Fallon and The Tonight Show do not have a business relationship with Bytedance.)

Users can lip-sync, do duets, record a reactions video and has some excellent tech in the app for video editing. Users can comment on videos and create video memes. It’s pretty fascinating. And wildly appealing to the masses.

One of the best things about TikTok is that the app doesn’t have advertising or monetization capabilities, even though it has a broad audience. With an estimated 500 million users, it’s just a matter of time.

Facebook launches a TikTok-clone.

Facebook doesn’t want to be late to the game. In classic follower fashion, they have launched their own short-video app, Lasso.

I played with both apps, and Lasso just doesn’t have comparable content.

What Facebook does have is its user base. By integrating with Facebook itself, Lasso may outdo TikTok eventually, but it will need to increase its capabilities.

Why should your business take notice?

Small businesses should be aware of these apps. Online videos are driving social media engagement. Content is king, and you’ve been reading here for years that video is a powerful component of any social media strategy.

TikTok and Lasso give you video-making and video-sharing tools that could increase your online presence.

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Tech News

Hardware tokens are what folks serious about avoiding hackers use

(TECH) Hardware tokens have been around for a while, but people most serious about avoiding hackers swear by them.

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How many passwords do you have? How many sites do you use each of your passwords for? Information Today research estimates over half of all adults have five or more unique passwords, while one in three adults have 10 or more unique passwords that have to be remembered.

This particular study was from 2012. I’d wager that most of us use many more passwords today than we did just six years ago. With the risk of your accounts being hacked increasing, you might be wary – you might not even trust an online password manager.

If you struggle with remembering all of your passwords and want to make sure you are managing passwords and protecting your accounts, you might want to consider a hardware token.

What is a hardware token?

This piece of hardware is a physical device, similar to a USB drive, that lets you gain access to an electronically restricted resource. It’s actually a simple two-factor authentication source.

Once your account is set up to accept the hardware token, you log in to the account with your user ID and password. You’ll be asked to insert the hardware token into the device, which gives you access to your account. It’s another layer of protection and authentication.

Hardware tokens have been on the market since 2002. Although many use the USB port on your device, Bluetooth tokens and smart cards are other types of hardware tokens. Setting up a hardware token is fairly easy. You can use your hardware token with most websites that have two-factor authorization.

The challenges with hardware tokens is that they are very easy to lose and can easily be stolen. That’s a pretty significant downside.

The YubiKey, one of the current offerings on the market, costs about $50. It could be expensive to have a hardware token for everyone in your organization. Google Titan, another brand of hardware key, costs about the same.

Some argue that not everyone needs this much security, but those people probably have never been hacked. If it protects your accounts, it might be worth taking a look.

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