Playing Catchup: Are We Even Really Ready for the Current Mobile Tech?

Something surprised me standing in line this morning waiting to board my flight to New York en route to Barcelona to attend the Mobile World Congress. I was the only passenger with my phone out ready to have my digital boarding pass scanned. Yes, I notice things like this. As much as I like to see mobile tech moving forward, what I really pay attention to is the habits of the masses around me. Traveling is a great time to do that. People will resort to comfort. What is most convenient, easy and less stressful wins out over new and novel. For a moment I thought of reaching in my pocket to retrieve the backup paper boarding pass I had printed the night before, or the copy the attendant had given me at baggage check.

Would the QR code scanner even work? Would I hold the line up pushing travel weary people even more over the edge? It would be easy to just be like everyone else and go back to paper.

I chose to stay the course. The scanner did work, only momentarily throwing a glitch because my iPhone case was too thick causing the glass-to-scanner distance to be too short. But what of the other passengers? Really it would make sense to use the old paper method. There is no way the TSA is going to just use a QR code. Can you imagine adding one more stressful hurdle to get past beyond the ones we already endure?

The truth is, many of our systems are not ready for even the current technology. Remember the first time you tried to use the automatic check out aisle? The poor employee standing there was almost as busy as a regular cashier, helping people when the system failed or the customer did something wrong.

Companies can unknowingly end up abusing the customers for trying the "new tech." As app developers, we see this in many business apps. Rather than providing elegance and ease of use, customer service apps can be confusing and much harder to use than just doing it the old way. UX (user experience) and UI (user interface ) fall victim to poor planning and poor system integration.

A good example of this is my Google deal redemption at the local art museum. We purchased two adult tickets in advance. At the ticket counter the process of verifying my deal and printing my tickets took three times longer than other museum goers who simply bought the tickets on site.

I remember the first time buying a movie ticket through Fandango and still having to wait in a line to show the ticket to someone. I stopped doing this because many of the theaters redeeming them still fumble the process by forcing customers through the same maze as those who buy tickets at the window.

This is not just a business problem though. Customers are still wrestling with the comfort zone of digital tickets, boarding passes and other e-assets. If it is not printed -- does it really exist? At least that's the pain point, and this kind of fear gets reinforced by failing systems. How often is a willing customer told, "Sorry ma'am, we have no record of your purchase," or "Our machine is not working right now. Do you have a paper copy?" Which brings me back to digital boarding passes; why on earth would we even need one if the TSA forces us to have a paper one anyway?

I am confident that we will get there eventually. We will reach a time, as author Rob Bell would say, where the seat-belt law factor will kick in. Not long ago it was not only permissible, but fun, to be the kid sprawled out in the back of your parent's Buick as you sped down the turnpike at 90 miles an hour. There were no systems in place for safety belts and the public would have resisted it if any were initiated. Now only a social reject would dare violate the law or worse yet suffer the shame of friends and family for not "buckling up."

There will come a time when only the Amish passenger is holding a paper boarding pass... that is if Amish people ever board planes. He will nervously scan the room seeing all the other passengers are happily using the smart, secure, efficient retinal boarding pass. How he got past security with an archaic piece of paper will be beyond imagination. As he steps up to the fully automatic machine, a door will open and an attendant will say "I am sorry sir we will have to take your pass and use an old system to verify it before you board." As he continues to hold up the line, he swears he will never try that again.

I will be at Mobile World Congress all week. If you have a question send me a message on Twitter.