Keeping in touch with new technology

TouchscreenSuper-fast broadband and tablet devices such as the Apple iPad are part of a humanised technological revolution. In this revolution, technology products will not succeed if they are developed for their own sake, nor simply to help users complete a specific task. Technology products succeed when they are incorporated by users into their daily lives in ways that serve their fundamental needs as people - fundamental needs such as relating to others and keeping in touch, even when they are miles apart.

It’s against this background that Dr Doug Williams, principal researcher at BT, embarked on BT-led EU-funded research into how technology can help nurture relationships. With responses from more than 2,000 men and women in 27 countries, Doug is beginning to shape an idea about how people might use touch-screen tablet devices in the future.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, the responses suggested more of what we already know,” said Doug. “The activities that were most popular - on an ‘at least once per week’ basis - were leaving messages for other people in the house, texting and using it as a phone.”

So the most popular anticipated use for a touch-screen tablet seems to be leaving messages in the home – much like people today write notes for one another. Reminding granny to take her tablets, dad to pick up the dry cleaning, mum that she has a dentist appointment – or telling the children what they need for school and wishing everyone a nice day. All these things can be easily forgotten during a busy day so a prompt might be just what is needed.

Even though many tablet devices now come with a built in camera, it seems one of the least popular ideas was to use the tablet for a weekly video chat with just four in ten people saying they would like to use the technology for a weekly face-to-face video chat. That said, nine in ten said it might be something they would do once a year around birthdays, special days and holidays. The research also suggested that having a video chat while playing a game or looking at photos was also popular.

“Another novel use that appealed to our respondents was using a tablet to read stories to children, something parents working away from home miss out on and grandparents cherish,” said Doug.

“It is, perhaps, unsurprising then that two thirds of people surveyed thought they would use their touch-screen tablet to do this at least once a week.

“But there are so many other ways that this technology might be used in future communication. Like sharing a game and a conversation with a friend living miles away. Or commentating on a TV programme, as if the other person is in the room with you,” he said.

The truth is nobody fully understands knows how today’s technology might be used tomorrow. If the recent past is anything to go by it’s likely that people will certainly find innovative and as yet unthought-of ways to communicate and keep in touch.

For his part, Doug has his own view. “Whatever happens with technology and super-fast broadband, I believe they will serve a fundamental human need to build relationships with those who are dear to us.”