Clothing digital smarts in analogue experiences
There is no better interface for a light bulb than a light switch.
This is not an absolute rule. In some contexts, for some people, a sensor response, a voice command, two claps, or hell, even an app, might be better.
But right now, for the vast majority of people, in the vast majority of contexts, a light switch is unbeatable. It is simple and familiar and most of all, it works. It doesn’t fail when AWS goes down. It doesn’t take five seconds to respond.
If a connected device can’t take those characteristics as a base line, conform to them within a reasonable margin, and improve on them with new features, then you have to ask yourself: does this object have a place in my home?
An increasingly analogue, digital world
It is spectacularly easy to make digital objects these days. Physical devices with internet connections are now a primary school project, with costs measured in the low pounds. Entirely virtual objects can now also be created with a primary school skills and at a cost measured in the pence.
Beyond the primary school, the state of the art is digital objects with analogue interfaces. How else to describe virtual, augmented or mixed reality? These are all interfaces to our digital systems designed to mimic physical interfaces. Physical interfaces that are intuitive to us thanks to millions of years of evolution.
Given this trend, to wrap the digital in the physical, why do we persist in wrapping connected physical devices with digital interfaces?
Analogue outside, digital inside
I’m rebuilding my home automation system at the moment, though since this seems to be a constant state of affairs, it might be more accurate to say it is undergoing continuous development. One of the design principles for this iteration is that every digital action must be clothed in an analogue interface that conforms as far as possible to the standards of the physical item it replaces.
This starts with the light switches.
If I get it right, they will look, and function just as they did before. But with the added benefit that they can — if desired — be remotely controlled and that the system will know their state.
But unless you know this, it will just be a plain old light switch. Because right now, there’s no better way to turn a light bulb on or off.