I read a great article in Wired magazine this month about memory. It always amazes me how a good writer can take a simple topic that after reading the article seems to make so much sense. Clive Thompson has done this with his article entitled “We Need Technology to Help Us Remember the Future.”
It could be that this article impressed me in such a way because I am a guy that is desperately in need of this next big mobile app. What would that be? Being in the marketing communications business, you might think that I’d say that this app might be one that can accurately target me and deliver a timely and appropriate ad while I’m driving by one of my clients’ retail locations with just the message that would lure me in to make a purchase. Well, maybe so, but actually what I really need is an app that would help me with my “Prospective Memory.”
Prospective memory is that memory that allows us to remember something that hasn’t happened yet. For example, my wife calls me and asks me to stop by Subway on the way home and pick up a couple of sandwiches for dinner. My prospective memory is what prompts me to pull off the road into the Subway parking lot and accomplish that task. Unfortunately, my common problem with this type of memory is that my recall related to that task is often triggered as I am pulling into the driveway, wondering what we will have for dinner. This new stimulus has triggered my latent prospective memory… that is, pulling into the driveway has activated this small piece of prospective memory into my conscious thought. Unfortunately, it is about 5 minutes and a mile to late…
The next big mobile app will be the one that can supply a trigger for prospective memory at an appropriate time and place. For instance, immediately after my wife asks me to stop by and pick up that sandwich, I could tell my phone to remind me to do so. On the way home, the app would be smart enough to trigger my memory as I approached the Subway location to swing in and pick up the sandwich as well as to remind me when I got there what sandwich she wanted and how she wanted it prepared.
There are a couple of apps that make rudimentary attempts at accomplishing this feat such as Apple’s Reminders or Checkmark but they have a way to go in order to accomplish appropriate triggering at a level that is sophisticated enough to be truly helpful. You might say that this level of sophistication is a ways away, but I doubt it. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I could talk to my phone and it would talk back in a seemingly intelligent manner. I can also remember saying that whoever can put a PDA and a cellphone in one neat package will make the next “killer app,” now smartphones are ubiquitous that do this and much more.
The marketing side of me also knows that whoever brings this to market will have to have a business model that makes sense. But I don’t think that I will mind. Perhaps if I tell my phone to remind me that I need to stop by Subway on the way home, it might answer and say that Subway’s a good idea for dinner, but you should also know that Firehouse Subs has your favorite sandwich on sale this week and it is only .15 miles out of your way. Eureka!