As an agency, our pandemic story is similar to that of many others. We quickly transitioned from office-based work to fully remote, and this was relatively straightforward thanks to the tools and software that we use.
The technology we already had was fit for purpose well before we encountered the pandemic. But this can’t be said for every business, with many companies’ infrastructure built upon legacy systems or old technologies, with COVID forcing them to quickly catch up.
But today we’d like to look at technology that has found a new purpose as a direct result of the pandemic, and how brands have quickly adapted their development roadmaps to make their products more purposeful for those struggling with lockdowns and social distancing.
We touched upon the more obvious examples in our blog, ‘2021 Is The Real Year For Digital Transformation’, such as Virgin Experiences transitioning from hot air balloon rides to online offerings, and easyJet (rather jokingly) offering much-missed inflight meals to holiday-sick residents of one lucky London borough through a collaboration with Deliveroo.
I appreciate these fun distractions, but I believe that for the most part, they are short-term fixes in what is set to be a long-term change to our daily lives.
“These are essentially fillers, but they do lay a strong foundation for technology to build upon. With the emergence of new virus variants, we certainly aren’t in the clear yet, but I hope that we can move away from fun and friendly fillers and quick fixes and into more substantial and sustainable tech solutions not only for families and home workers, but businesses too.”
Looking at larger companies—Amazons and the Apples of the world—we start to see more permanent changes to their products and services, such as the ability to rate a delivery driver for their social distancing, or being able to watch movies with friends or family via Facetime. From a development perspective, these are not major overhauls to the respective companies’ platforms, but perhaps a few weeks of development work. What I find the most interesting isn’t how they did this, but why. These features simply weren’t required or really even asked for pre-pandemic. Suddenly, tech and entertainment businesses are thinking about new ways to deliver content to groups who are hundreds of miles apart.
On the subject of delivery, we all know the struggle faced by many high street restaurants over the last 18 months. The majority were simply not set up for home delivery, which quickly became the key to keeping the cash flowing. Even today, the app or web-based solutions implemented by many big-name high street restaurants actually aren’t that great, and feel a little temporary. So again, I wonder if the emergence of a new variant will force companies to invest once again, and properly, in their digital solutions, with an approach that is better designed and more scalable.
Gaming leading the way
Board games saved many a day for us during lockdown one. We took it up a level by joining Zoom calls with friends and positioning our phones on tripods to at least pretend we were playing in the same room. Or we would point a phone at the TV and attempt to play Drawful via Xbox. The internet being the internet, we fell foul to lag, bad connections and dropouts.
Fast-forward 18 months, and we are now able to don Oculus VR headsets and play games together virtually – fully immersive, no lag, much fun. We’ve been able to play everything from crazy golf to virtual board games… we can even watch feature films as if we were in a home theatre together.
Gaming is brilliant fun, but it’s not for everyone. In some cases it is prohibitively expensive too. But it’s pleasing to see businesses like Facebook develop a VR offering as part of their Workplace platform. Personally, I’d love to see a little more interactivity in remote meetings – a welcome break from the broken record of “You’re on mute!” and “Can you guys see me!?”. Just think how great a welcome gift a VR headset would be. I believe that employee onboarding will change and I’d love to see VR or even AR playing a part in that.
VR in the wider world
We already know that adoption can be slow. Particularly with something like VR, which is immersive and can even be rather intimidating to newcomers. But the world being the way it is today, we desperately need alternative options for what were once simple things like visiting a museum, shopping or going to the cinema with mates.
VR retail experiences would be great to see, and could work in a number of ways. Users could browse virtual stores, picking up items and placing them in their trolley the way they usually would when visiting a supermarket. Or perhaps the experience is based around one feature product, such as a car, where the user can walk around it and sit inside it, or a pair of trainers, where AR allows the user to interact with the shoes and even virtually place them on a table or add them to an outfit.
The convergence of technology and adoption
The possibilities are virtually endless and the technology has never been so accessible on a consumer level. To me, it feels like we are at the midpoint of a see-saw. The ideas are there, the technology is available, but the widespread execution is yet to come. It’s a strange time to be rolling out revolutionary technology and concepts that we wouldn’t have dreamed of using two years ago.
But if we can look at any positives from the pandemic, it’s that we come out of it better connected, with technology playing a greater part in providing more meaningful experiences to those who really need it – care homes, people with disabilities, education institutions, and much more.
In an ideal world, we’d love to be working on the latest and greatest tech. But the right thing to do is to build the products that people truly need.
In turn, businesses like ours have a stronger case for building apps, software and products for devices or platforms that we simply couldn’t have considered before. It goes without saying that in an ideal world, we’d love to be working on the latest and greatest tech. But the right thing to do is to build the products that people truly need, and as we see a convergence of game-changing tech with consumer adoption, it’s an exciting time for software development.
Look out for our next blog in this series, where we’ll be looking at some of the technologies that have helped us as a business, as couples or as families throughout the various ups and downs of lockdowns, social distancing and remote working.