Interconnected Mobile Devices Blurring Digital and Physical

In his most recent article, Joel Blackmore opens with something that’s been resonating in my mind for a while:

With iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s Apple are bridging the gap between physical experiences and digital experiences in a way that none of their competitors are coming close to. Whilst digital experiences can be beautiful, enjoyable, surprising, they are only ever as powerful as the physical, emotional, human impact they cause. The full value potential may not be immediately apparent but it could be argued that by making their digital experiences more physical, more human, Apple are redefining user experience on mobile leading us into an era of united physical and digital experiences.

– Apple Leading a New Era of UX, Uniting Physical and Digital Experiences | Joel Blackmore.

Inspired by Apple’s latest update to iOS 7 and the hardware of the iPhone 5s, Joel points at one key theme; the barrier between physical and digital is shifting. Slowly, but surely blurring 1 into one. Now you can argue any input or output is joining the world of physical with digital. I wouldn’t disagree, it’s all contextual and relevant to the current era of technology we’re in. I remember the excitement of creating my first website, the new idea of pressing some keys then pushing a button and it would be available to anyone in the world. I felt physically connected to the person at the other end even though the entire process was digital. But that experience now seems disjointed, moving a box with a ball 2 around a desk to move a little arrow on a screen with a handful of pixels. I was connecting but not connected.

Then came the iPhone. Now although touch screens have been around for a while they hadn’t gone beyond frustrating people trying to buy train tickets in a hurry. They didn’t quite work.

Kids that can’t even talk will walk up to a TV screen and try to swipe it like an iPad or an iPhone.

– 38% of Children Under 2 Use Mobile Media | Mashable

Touch screens make sense. Simply physically touching the interface to interact with it, the responsiveness of scrolling as it follows your fingers, all with acceleration and physics to mimic real world physical interactions. With iOS 7 Apple have moved skeuomorphism away from the visuals 3 and into the interactions. Screens are less like screens; with high-DPI and retina making them more physical. That’s where things are getting exciting again.

Mobile and small screen devices are just a little box that transforms to whatever app its owner just tapped. But now these apps are able to take over other devices too.

My phone is beginning to control my house, in ways I have quickly become accustom too. For example, as soon as I get near my house the lights in the hallways turn on, I no longer think about this being controlled by my phone, it’s now just something that happens. No more fumbling for the light switch and no more leaving the house and worrying a light is left on. When listening to music in just a couple of taps I can change the room it’s playing in. If I’m feeling particularly flamboyant then I can have all the lights in the house change in time with the music (I will accept that’s a gimmicky side effect of having interconnected devices but shall continue to enjoy it despite my girlfriend’s dismay).

Read this in 15 years and you’ll find the concept of having a separate device that isn’t screwed in to your head bizarre, but things are evolving. With new technology like Bluetooth LE and iBeacons we’re beginning to connect devices with the physical world. Currently this seems to just be a means to merely prompt a user, reminding them they can use something digital when they’re somewhere physical, however, I’m excited to see this go beyond the obvious indoor navigation or guiding you around the supermarket shelves.

This feels like the beginning of the second smartphone boom, with less focus on the physical device as it continues to integrate with our surroundings; in a way that should enhance our day to day lives. Post PC and mobile finally feels where technology has been eager to get to for the last 30 years.


  1. Yes, that’s an iOS 7 pun.
  2. Don’t get me started on this.
  3. Beyond the core OS Apple are slowly updating their suite of apps. The most notable being the recent iBooks app update.