Smule co-founder Ge Wang says technology has 'disappeared', though player expression is blossoming

GDC11: ‘Tech is in the past, the future is people’

The 25th GDC kick-started today with a message for the new breed of smartphone developers: the key to success is not milestones in technology, but milestones in user interaction.

Ge Wang, of ‘smartphone toys’ developer Smule, explained his end-goal in app development is always to encourage a user’s expressiveness – to give them the chance to create content for themselves.

Smule has built a range of innovative musical devices for iPhone, from ocarinas (using the device’s mic to ‘blow’ into) to virtual lighters. He has even created a sound-distortion app that mimics highly-synthesised vocals commonly used by popular R&B artists.

The latter he demonstrated on stage with a spot of karaoke, to which he earned a round of applause.

But crucially, he said, each device gives people the chance to perform, to express and to connect to other users.

The ocarina is self-advertising through numerous YouTube videos of people performing with them, Wang said. Other Smule musical apps connect numerous users together to rate each other’s work in real-time.

In his Smartphone Summit lecture, the crux of Wang’s point was that technology’s past was components, and technology’s future is people; individuals who use the tech to demonstrate something about themselves.

“Apps are primarily about the way we relate to technology, but smartphones are much more personal than laptops,” he said.

“People say, ‘this is my phone, this is my number’.”

Wang said the new wave in personal computing is the ‘disappearance’ of technology. He said that smartphone owners were a prime example of this disappearance – in that they are carrying around highly sophisticated devices with reasonable memory capacity, CPU speed and network capabilities, and yet the device is intuitive and user-friendly.

“With laptops and desktops, we have to immerse ourselves [in the technology] to understand them. With mobile, we take the technology out into our real lives,” Wang said.

He added that, in designing mobile applications, the big chance for developers is to tap into a customer’s personal connection with a device.

The future, he concluded, is uncharted.
“Even after three years, I don’t really fully know what I’m doing. I think if we knew what we were doing in this smartphone space, we’d probably be missing something.”

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