There’s a lot of opportunities at the moment as digital products cross over in to the physical realm, and vice versa.
People are getting increasingly attached to their data (especially as it exists on the web), and making this accessible through physical products is an obvious opportunity. Products which have managed the cross over exceptionally well are the iPhone, but less obvious examples are:
Which has social networking features so you can see what your friends are listening to. Big deal you might say, but people like ritualistic things. Listening to the radio is a big part of my life, and being able to segment that away from my usual computer usage is important. And as computing and networking power becomes even more pervasive, there’s room for intelligent usage of these kinds of social features (but no intelligent fridges please - I don’t feel like sharing my eating habits quite yet…).
The flip side of the coin is bringing physical products into the digital realm. Developers sometimes exist in their own bubble, developing products which are useful to other computer fanatics, but which aren’t so useful to the general public. There’s a lot of opportunities in solving problems associated with everyday things. Transport for London has done a great job providing real time data about their bus service. Another great example (only a prototype at the moment) is this iPhone app which shows a map of air quality.
Some products straddle the boundaries. For instance, the Wattson electricity meter allows people to see what their electricity usage is at any time via a glowing ornament which sits on the table. A future feature is to allow the owner to upload the data to the web, to compare electricity usage with other users.
It’s an exciting time to be designing new products and services. We have to remember that they’re being designed for the internet generation, who have grown up in a world where the digital world and the physical world have merged. It makes sense that our products do the same.