Contextual apps

S4 with the Cover app lock screen
S4 with the Cover app lock screen

There are digirati who claim that the era of contextual apps and services is here and that it will transform our daily lives (the recent, app-cataloguing book Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel is one example). Since the mobile media experimentation and development really took off in the late nineties, there has been much talk and few real breakthroughs in this area. However, some recent developments have brought the “contextual revolution” a bit closer to reality. Particularly all the information industry giants like Google and Apple are collecting is making it easier to use algorithms and sensor data to identify various locations and provide estimates on what the user would be interested in doing in that particular spot. I have been test driving e.g. Cover, the contextual lock screen app, and Aviate, the contextual home screen app (currently in beta) in my Android device (Samsung Galaxy S4). While there is obvious promise in making the mobile operating system and user experience more adaptive, providing the most used applications in my particular locations seems still a bit hit-and-miss affair for these apps, at least. I suppose they will get better by learning from what I am actually doing, but currently I end up manually configuring the app shortcuts in the various “Spaces” that Aviate serves me, for example. And that is not exactly making the life easier than having a static home screen where I can immediately find my most used apps, always reliably in the same place. Having this “lively interface” where things are dynamically moving around can be also confusing, so my mind is stil divided about the actual usefulness of this, first generation. But I can definitely see that this kind of functionalities could come built-in some of the next versions of Android, for example. When these services start to know you better than yourself, the holding power of such apps can obviously grow to remarkable (or frightening, depending on the perspective) degrees. A really insightful recommendation system can really affect your behaviour (think about all those Amazon.com recommendations, for example), and when something similar is always making suggestions to you while you are going around and deciding upon the directions and activities in your daily life, the effect is potentially vastly greater.

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Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.