Keyboard shortcuts and commands are nothing new, and in fact date back to the earliest of those clunky desktop islands — grey hunks battling for desk space with the big metal boxes holding our motherboards. Ctrl + Alt + Delete anyone? But these multi-finger commands were most often used in the service of getting software to go from point A to point C by skipping B.
With laptops, mice and trackpads the old keyboard shortcuts (while proliferating) were still relegated to the backseat of our minds. Unless you were using something like Cheatsheet, or committing commands to memory you were probably like most and just getting by with a couple shortcuts and a lot of mouse.
But along came feature phones with data capabilities and smartphones with multimedia. These had all sorts of terrific possibilities of course, but, humans being human, we gravitated back to what we do best with our electronic toys: we communicated with each other, mostly using text. But on a tiny numeric keyboard? Unfortunately the OEMs and carriers had little sense of how consumers behaved (or simply didn’t care) so, yes, we were given a tiny numeric keyboards to battle for words. This is where T9 came in to save us, sort of. The feature, eventually embedded on most cellphones, allowed users to type words to be entered with a keystroke rather than many of them — it took a while to get familiar, and it was hard, but it surpassed the alternative.
So we’ve arrived at today. Smartphones can do pretty much anything we ask — even using its software bits to move atoms in the case of something like Uber. We’re spoiled by the product developments of the past 15 years, mostly taking them for granted the moment we adopt ’em. But has keyboard innovation reached the end of its useful life, particularly with new and sophisticated voice-command tools battling for attention. Heck, the Year of the Bot is at hand… who needs a keyboard when voice and robe-services are born? Right?
A new group of companies are focusing in on these keyboard shortcuts — and, more importantly, they are embracing innovations with an eye keenly directed toward local services.
These companies are finding ways into local services by getting in between a consumer’s desire and fulfillment of his desire are the core level: where their thumbs are hitting the glass. Startups like PopKey and Slash have found what feels like a Trojan Horse into our stream of communication. No longer when texting with friends must you leave iMessage or Mail to find that funny animated GIF that sums up a whole lot of intention, or a restaurant link to share among friends as you tried to herd the cats around dinner.
…it’s a sure bet there will be jockeying for position at this new inflection point of convenience and commerce and communication.
These guys discovered a crease between how consumers interact today and where they struggle to interact as desired, and are filling it. With customized keyboards that slip almost invisibly into our normal flow we are now empowered by their integration: whatever you want will soon be available as you move from talking about going to the movies to seeing what’s playing and when, and hailing a ride to take you there. (Facebook is getting on the bandwagon with Uber integration as well as animated GIFs, payment and other features — but only within the keyboard of their Messenger product.)
“Slash really came out of the whole idea of a command line,” CEO Cem Kozinoglu told WIRED recently, “of having the whole interface connected.”
But the real implications are for local services, and how consumers access and acquire offerings of their nearby SMBs. If empowered keyboards that spring to life when you’re texting or sending mail — or in any text input situation on your phone — become a mainstay, it’s a sure bet there will be jockeying for position at this new inflection point of convenience and commerce and communication.
Getting Intimate, Early
Foursquare has already staked a position in Slash, allowing users to either tap “/” and select Foursquare from an inline list, which pulls info on nearby restaurants allowing the user to tap-n-send deets on that establishment. There’s a tiny embedded search field as well to find other places.
What about local services like, say, flower delivery? A quick in-my-flow Google search reveals local florists right in the keyboard. I can’t yet request a bouquet be sent to me or the person I am currently texting (Slant just reveals the information) but how long before that becomes reality?
It’s easy to imagine the double-whammy on local businesses of integrated local search and on-demand services. Suppose you’re texting your mother (hey, it happens!) and she tells you she doesn’t want to venture in the snow for some over-the-counter medicine from the local pharmacy. A keyboard integration with, say, Taskrabbit might allow the entire transaction to take place in the text conversation. And if that’s the case, imagine how far it could be extrapolated: food delivery, micro-gift delivery… the equivalent of last minute checkout counter purchases could proliferate with inline discovery and purchasing. Heck, Amazon is already integrated with Slash to a degree, so it’s coming.
What these immersive services have not done well yet is the discovery part. Some years ago I developed a prototype service dubbed “Hot Words” that dynamically turned typed words or phrases into actions based on a tethered database. This allowed us to push content based on perceived intention — it worked OK. But with such deep integration at the hyper-personal level — the keyboard — there’s no excuse (save privacy) for a proper execution of such a concept. Imagine Yelp’s keyboard integration elegantly popping up suggestions or even Craigslist offering to list your car if you key in “my car died” or the like? To some that seems intrusive and annoying, but like everything it’s all in the execution.
The question now for local SMBs is whether that execution will actually happen or is this just another thing the “Normals” will ignore, leaving it withering — a nifty add-on that never blossomed? And how to play along? The best thing to do now is install and toy with these services. Ask customers about them: are they familiar? And then make sure you’re already well positioned within the services these keyboards are surfacing, a la Foursquare.
If your Google positioning is strong and your business is appearing in the key directories it’s a safe bet that as a “source” of content and services you’re still going to be found no matter the presentment. Making sure your business is carried along in the source of content for any new technology is the best way to avoid your customers hitting Ctrl + Alt + Delete too soon.