Beyond the Smartphone

Nowadays many aspects of our lives can be achieved via the smartphone. Everything from banking, to buying, to communication, and all things media (TV, movies, music, newspapers, books, games, airplane tickets) are accessible through smartphones. The options are endless, and smartphones as multifunctional devices have literally become the center of our universe. There is a huge benefit of having everything in one place, but it creates powerful gravity that constantly pulls us into its universe whether we like it or not.

There was a world before the smartphone; a world that existed before our current one. For many people today, the “before” world is incomprehensible. For the majority, for better or worse, this is the new reality. Having lived in the “before” era and the “now” era, I believe there are many valuable things we have lost and left behind in our never-ending quest for convenience.

Once there was a tangible ritual with music. The physical search through albums on a shelf began my engagement and commitment with music. Choosing an album, and the physical act of placing a record on a record player, required premeditated thought and time commitment. Putting a record on was also a commitment to listening to the whole album exactly how the artist intended. The physical record player and speakers reinforced the emotional connection to music, and this was often a shared experience with family and friends.

Today, the direct and tangible experience between me and my music has been broken, getting to my music is a multi-step process. Find my phone, unlock, find the app, search for music, choose the room to play the music, adjust the volume, and then finally press play. In between the goal of “play my music” and “music playing” there are also a series of other distractions that act as barriers to my music: distracting apps, software updates, and ever-demanding notifications. Very often I find that my goal to “play my music” has been sidetracked by something else competing for my attention. Therefore, time intended to be spent listening to music is spent interacting with my phone.

As designers, we are always dreaming up new product ideas that can lead to new and better alternative realities. There are pros and cons to universal devices. I’m not suggesting we go backwards, but that all our experiences should not have to come through the portal of the smartphone.

We came up with a concept of a universal smart home remote that separates smart home interactions from a smartphone, and then places them into a physical object that could sit on a shelf or a coffee table. The device would have limits and would not serve functions outside of the smart home ecosystem.

This smart home remote helps people to focus on key daily experiences without all of the barriers and distractions of a smartphone. Its soft form and quality materials suggest that it can be left out and live as an object of beauty in the home when it’s not being used. Its generous size and large interface encourage music to be a shared experience with others.

Written by Max Burton, Founder and Creative Director of Industrial Craft