Three Phases of Digitization for Physical Spaces

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How will digitization impact physical spaces? Our first-floor remodeling project has provided a useful vehicle for us to think about this question in both theoretical and practical terms as we brainstorm ideas about what we want to the space to look like and what “experiences” we want to deliver.

Based on the projects we are carrying out for customers in Taiwan and China and my own observations during my overseas trips this year, globally we are still in what I would call the “display” phase. For most commercial deployments, this involves installing digital signage and video wall systems to broadcast information to people, whether it be gorgeous high-resolution ads on massive displays in shopping centers or the day’s meeting schedule on a small screen outside a conference room.

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Although digital signage and video wall systems provide a very effective means of capturing eyeballs in even the most crowded spaces, the main drawback of most of them is their inability to “talk” directly to the people looking at them. If, for example, someone is watching a movie trailer, there is a probably a good chance that they would welcome having a special ticket offer zapped straight to their phone that they can respond to immediately. Without that, the chances are that they will quickly forget about the movie as soon as the trailer is over even if they tell themselves that they will go and see it sometime in the future.

Enabling this type of “engagement” is the second phase of the digitization of physical spaces. Thanks to short-range wireless technologies such as beacon and sonarcast this is already starting to happen, and will continue to proliferate over the next few years as businesses and governments experiment with new ways to trigger interactions with consumers and citizens (or at least their phones). The days when you can simply point and click your device at an item that takes your fancy and have it delivered directly to your home without you even touching it are not that far away at all.

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Physical spaces such as shopping centers and retail stores are going to have to offer a lot more than frictionless payments if they are to attract the demanding consumers of the future. They will have to create unique and memorable experiences that will entertain visitors and entice them to further explore their surrounding environment just like in a theme park.

This is where the third phase of digitization, “immersion”, comes in. With immersion, technology will not only be embedded in the bricks and mortar of a space but also integrated into its furniture and fixtures. Lighting and temperature will automatically change depending on the number and mood of people in the area as measured by environmental and image sensors. Virtual fitting rooms and make up stations will enable consumers to personalize their clothing and cosmetics combinations so that they look perfect for the party or function they plan to attend while interactive touch-screen games and stunning light and sound shows keep their children entertained.

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With a plethora of virtual and augmented reality apps around the corner as well, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination, and as the technology becomes easier and cheaper to implement competition between different spaces to outdo each other will become more and more intense.

One of our most important goals for the first floor remodeling project is to give our visitors an insight into what these three phases of digitization will look like and the kinds of new experiences that they will enable. Achieving that will require a clear and detailed blueprint for designing the space. I’ll describe how we are putting that together in my next entry on this project.

VIA Technologies, Inc.