Trying to second-guess the future of predictive services


How will consumers interact with their phones in the future? Will it be through today’s ‘hunting and pecking’ of apps in silos with a mix of a sub-optimal mobile Web interface?

Or, will mobile operating systems learn our behaviours so well as to predict and anticipate what we will want to do or know next, either by the time of day, the way in which we hold our phones, or other signals?” ~ Semil Shah, Tech Crunch, Nov 3.

Predictive mobile services, hand-in-hand with the rise of wearables, are providing yet another layer of opportunity and complexity to digital publishing – furthering the actual creation of a market of one.

Already my navigation app, after watching my usage for a few days, asks if I’m heading home when I launch it at commute time. A calendar app proactively alerts me when I need to leave for an appointment based on traffic times. And Google has made predicative information surfacing the core to Google Now – “instant information right when you need it.”

Additionally, Google is improving predictive services in Android, and no doubt Apple will, as well. Both aim to have their Operating Systems (OS) double as personal assistants.

Web topic searches on the device can link back to relevant apps on the device, as well as external sites. The operating system creates a feedback loop where repeated engagement is encouraged.

If the entire OS eventually acts as a predictive personal assistant, how might this impact surfacing of news and news apps?

For replica newspaper products (discussed in my previous post), where we see a consistent user pattern, our tablets might begin launching the app about the same time each Sunday when we sit down with our cups of coffee.

And what of “irregular” use patterns?

I go on jags of Buzzfeed binge-reading every so often, but with no real pattern; I just get pulled in by “12 cats who are so over it.” But I take Facebook breaks throughout the day.

Will Buzzfeed, or my news app, lose out to Facebook as the phone more likely prompts me to check Facebook when I use it – locking me into a habit with fewer apps?

If so, clear understanding of reader engagement habits and strong push messaging strategies will be necessary to keep the app in front of their attention. Publishers will need to both embrace and fight the predictive engagement loop.

The last consideration I’m throwing out as a question – because I don’t have an answer myself and would love to discuss.

How can publishers introduce compelling predicative services in our apps? Is it as little as automatically moving the sports page to the front of my app? Or hiding a section I never read? Better advertising targeting methods?

Perhaps it’s not in the news delivery aspect but some other service?

Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri’s design principles that distinguish predictive apps are a good starting point for thinking about things:

  • Learn who the customer (individual user) really is.

  • Detect the customer’s intent in the moment.

  • Morph functionality and content to match the intent.

  • Optimise for the device (or channel).

What would you build? 

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