A term coined back in 2015 by Andy Goodman, Zero UI, explains systems that require only our behavior to react and respond. Behavior like voice commands, gestures, glances, and — once upon a time in the future – thoughts.
In July 2020, according to Future Consumer Index, 52% of global consumers reported they prefer contact-less delivery and cashless payments just to avoid touching things while shopping.
Is this number convincing enough for entrepreneurs to start thinking about adopting Zero UI? Are the technologies ready to offer a touchless experience for customers for an adequate cost? And what are the existing implementations of Zero UI out there?
Being a design and development company, we thought about it, and below we share what we’ve come up with. But first, check out our plans – these are our limited sets of services to help you get started with building your product and get a feasible outcome within 1-4 weeks.
Zero UI Has Been Here For Quite a While
Though the pandemic has actualized our needs in touchless (or hands-free) solutions, Zero UI has long been present in our lives. Let's recall the next tools:
- Voice assistants, like Google Home or Amazon Echo. Turned on only once, they listen to your voice 24/7 to instantly perform your voice command. Every year, hundreds of companies supplement their functionality with more commands related to their services. For instance, you can efficiently operate your CapitalOne account or make Starbucks orders via Alexa.
- Gaming equipment, like Xbox Kinect or Oculus Rift. They have a screen but rely on your gestures and movements in the first place.
- Chatbots with the ability of natural language processing. The developers behind it used machine learning to help chatbots understand our speech, so you can launch virtually any function with the text command.
Thus, Zero UI is something people have already been working on for a while. But it has been mostly trapped inside of home devices and smartphones.
7 Examples of Zero UI in Outdoor Appliances
Let's get back to the idea of touchless interfaces since, due to the pandemic, 77% of customers now want touchless interactions with technology (according to Capgemini).
How can we go touchless? As a custom web design company, we usually work with on-screen interfaces, so here are a few outstanding examples in the other industries.
In 2013, Douwe Egberts added facial recognition to the coffee machines. Then, they installed them in the airports to give a free cup of coffee to customers who yawned.
Now, with face recognition installed in every modern smartphone and used for phone unlock, animojis, and whatnot, this is no longer an innovation.
In 2019, BMW showed the updated Gesture Control in some of their cars. With it, you'll have a special camera installed on the roof of your car that will track your gestures. Moving your fingers, you can control media volume, skip songs, reject calls, and turn on or off the iDrive control display.
Speaking of BMW – in 2020, they also unveiled a gaze detection system. It tracks what you're looking at and provides you with additional information relevant to that object. For instance, it can be a menu of the restaurant you're passing by or a cinema schedule.
Another way of avoiding touching the screens and buttons is, of course, voice. In 2020, Picovoice, a technology startup, announced they're building a voice-enabled elevator.
And remember those contactless Amazon Go stores? In September 2020, Amazon unveiled Amazon One, a technology that needs only your palm to identify you by the unique shape of your hand and its veins and let you make payment. Well, they’ve started with enabling payment but will use it in many more ways later.
Going back to our mobile&web design company, Zero UI has reached smartphones as well: you might have heard about Domino's Zero Click ordering that allows you to make your favorite pizza with a Siri command.
Another interesting idea was introduced in 2017 in the Moto app: it allows you to enable a few features by operating with the phone in a certain way, like making chopping motions or twisting your wrist with it in your hand.
What You Should Know Before Going Zero UI
In 2021, it’s no longer enough just to offer an unusual way of interacting with users: you also need to take advantage of data and context.
You never know who will use your solution – a US ex-marine, an Asian college student, or an older person from Switzerland. But your solution will know, and it should either know how or learn to adjust to their way of speaking or showing gestures for the perfect response.
Context awareness means various things, from keeping the previous conversation “in mind” to recognizing a person wearing a medical mask.
It also includes predictive thinking, which helps solutions forecast users’ needs, desires, and intentions. It might be as simple as Amazon keeping track of your baby’s age and sending you monthly emails offering the products that fit their changing needs. Or imagine understanding the user’s voice command even if they can’t recall the exact name of the restaurant they visited or a book purchased a couple of years ago.
The technology for Zero UI is also already here. There’s Magic Leap, the spatial computing technology that might help you augment reality with 3D visualizations, and Google Soli to enable human motions as one more input source.
And then, there are multiple chatbot and voice recognition technologies, machine learning, and artificial intelligence tools to let your solution learn people’s behavior and feedback and improve. We know that because being an Android and iPhone app development company, we’ve been using them a lot in all kinds of projects.
And the hardware is finally cheap and powerful enough to make your zero UI devices independent from the cloud and thus more reliable in providing services to their customers.
How to Design Zero UI
The answer to this question might heavily depend on your industry and target audience, but there’s one particular approach that should fit in most cases. Andreas Komninos described it, and it’s straightforward: imagine that your friend should solve the problem you have.
In their article, Andreas makes an example of choosing a restaurant to eat at. Even though a local friend might not know all the restaurants in the city, they’ll consider various observations and make many assumptions about your levels of tiredness, hunger, today’s taste preferences. And they’ll voice two or three options that will be easy to choose from.
This is the behavior a zero UI should try to replicate. It stands on three pillars:
- Observations about your current status and request. These can be done based on the data from your wearables like health/fitness trackers, previous activity with your smartphone, visited locations, etc.
- External knowledge about the world. In most cases, we’re talking about the data received from third-party services like FourSquare or TripAdvisor via API.
- Intelligence to make the best suggestion based on collected data in given circumstances AND present it in the most fitting way – through a screen, a voice response, or even a vibration. Here comes AI, deep learning, and other advanced technologies.
In the end, you should also make sure that the experience you want to offer will be pleasurable and help the user make the most of their endeavor. This is a moment worth considering because it has been proved that interacting with our smartphones too much distracts us from noticing exciting and important things around us.
If you can supply your solution with these three pillars, it’s time to start adopting zero UI.
For entrepreneurs seeking new ways to engage customers and be ahead of the competition, Zero UI is a thing to look at. Besides, Asokan Ashok, CEO of UnfoldLabs, believes zero UI will become commonplace by 2025.
However, as a mobile and web development company, we see many businesses still opt for screens for a very compelling reason – they're just more reliable, secure, and familiar. So if you want to present users with voice or gesture controls, pay special attention to the reliability of your technology and the way it can protect users' data from prying eyes.
In the end, if there's a chance your users are not accustomed to touchless interfaces, it'll probably be better to make this shift as slow and soft as possible, with onboarding procedures and ways to opt back to the traditional interface temporarily.
To make a best decision on this matter, you’ll need to perform product analysis, which is a complex thing requiring deep expertise. We learned to do it within two weeks for our clients, for a fixed cost. Learn more at ego-cms.com/plans.