I had dinner last night with an old friend who’s in town for a few days on a business visit. Much of our conversation centered on social media, technology and the results of some of the developments we’re likely to be seeing in the next few years in areas such as reading, consuming and interacting with news and information.
That part of our conversation wasn’t so much about the obvious things like newspapers and other dead-trees media (which we did discuss: we thought the interesting newspaper experiment in Belgium is clearly a sign of what’s coming in that area). It was more to do with fundamental things like product manuals.
That may not be a particularly sexy topic yet if you think about it, manufacturers around the world spend small fortunes on producing printed materials (booklets, leaflets, etc) to inform you about the product you’d just purchased, how to install and/or use it, etc. In much of Europe, those printed materials are often in multiple languages. For instance, the Sony TV I bought a few years ago came with six thick booklets, all saying the same things in six different languages. Even a humble kettle I bought last year had a multi-lingual booklet. (No jokes here about those wonderful product manuals in English that look like they’ve got to that final lingual format from the original text in Mandarin Chinese via Hungarian after a rinse through a regional Latin American Spanish dialect.)
While my friend believes the need for such printed material will remain so for many years to come, my view is that in areas such as consumer products and computer hardware/software in particular, the clear trend is to do away with printed material altogether and publish such material only online.
We already have the situation where you buy your product, open the box and find a slim little flyer or single sheet with a brief text and a direction to an online place for more info. When you go there, you encounter the ubiquitous PDF version of the manual that the manufacturer doesn’t print any more.
That’s where we are today. Where we need to get to is when you can interact with the content you go to online. And by that I mean both you as the human being interacting as well as the product interacting automatically.
So with such day-to-day consumer items like my TV or kettle, for instance, I’d like to see those devices automatically do things like register my purchase with the manufacturer (and the nearest service agent), or check their configurations against some place online that would automatically update the device with the latest whatever. Well, maybe the kettle won’t need that, but you never know.
This is getting into experimental areas such as your fridge notifying you when you need to get more milk. What the fridge actually needs to do is tell the local supermarket, not you. That gets added to your purchase options which the supermarket then delivers to you on your next delivery cycle.
But back to the manual. What’s needed here is something far more intelligent than a printed booklet or online PDF file. And it needs to be drop-dead simple, both in understanding the information you encounter as well as how to get to that information. In the case of the kettle, I’d suggest that once it’s registered itself online (naturally the kettle has some form of built-in connectivity to do that) you receive some kind of automatic notification of a place you can go to online for that manual.
That notification would be to whatever is your preferred or usual device – it would know where to find you (a scary concept to some but the ability for that to happen is closer than you might think).
Once there you’d be able to do some interesting things other than just read some pages. You’d have options to, say, find out how to use the nifty low-power setting on your kettle and the part you can play in saving energy. Or click on a link (even speak, perhaps) to go to a related place for other things you can do with your kettle (assuming the manufacturer has some imagination here). You’d be offered things (great advertising and ecommerce opportunities).
See, there’s more to a kettle than you might have thought. Ok, yes, I have watched – many times – the Back To The Future films, but just think of the possibilities!