Back Pocket Apps

One morning last week my phone was dead, so on my commute to work I looked around at the other people on the bus, and everyone else was buried in their cell phones. Every now and then an idealist pops up, haranguing this and moaning for the good ole days when people actually talked face to face and cared about each other. But, this is idealistic because our world – business, social interactions, everything – takes place with our phones (tablets, wearables, laptops) in front of us. Golden Krishna isn’t idealistic about getting back to face to face interactions because he has a solution for changing the paradigm of how the world works with technology: back pocket apps.

back pocket phone

Back pocket apps, as detailed in Krishna’s new book The Best Interface Is No Interface and a UX Booth article Craig tweeted, are apps that work best while in the user’s pocket. In other words, they do not require the user to pull out their phone and interact with the app on screen. Krishna cites Lockitron as an example of what a back pocket app – and rethinking our current apps – can do.


Lockitron’s first iteration was designed to do away with remembering your keys and make it easier for users to lockand unlock their doors. But, it required users to pull out their phones, unlock their phones, find the Lockitron app, open the Lockitron app, and tap to unlock their door. The 12 step process Krishna diagrams is somewhat startling because it is not exclusive to Lockitron. It’s not a design flaw in the Lockitron app – it’s how all of our apps work. And it does take work. The second iteration of Lockitron used Bluetooth technology to allow the app, inside the phone, inside the user’s pocket, to talk to the lock and open it as the user approached. No 12 step process – just keep walking (sound like automatic doors to anyone?).

12 step process12 step process diagram

2 step process

The Lockitron example as a pioneer of back pocket does pose problems, mostly security issues. We have passcodes on our phones to prevent others from getting into them, and if our passcode is required to get into our home, the likelihood of someone who stole our phone getting into our home is less. It also poses a convenience problem – what if you come home and your phone is out of battery? But, the idea of interacting less with apps and allowing our technology to actually make our lives easier and more seamless without taking all of our attention is appealing. Krishna also notes that ‘thinking beyond screens isn’t applicable to every type of problem,’ which is an important concession. He isn’t an idealist railing against everyone being absorbed in their phones, rather he is proposing ways for technology to do what it can do – make our lives easier seamlessly.

Applying back pocket apps to the museum context, as the context we are working within in this class, I think can be useful. Combining aspects of the Pen from Cooper Hewitt and the interactive app used at the Armory Show by Artsy, a back pocket app that tracks where users are in a museum, where they spent the most time (i.e. in front of which painting), and sends data to both the museum (hey, this painting is really popular) and the user (oh yeah, that was the painting I really liked and couldn’t remember the name of) is a useful possibility. A back pocket app that worked as a back pocket audio tour might be a bit more intrusive: imagine walking through a gallery and all of a sudden your phone in your pocket starts talking really loudly about Monet – embarrassing. But, then again, we all have our headphones in at all times anyway, and automating an audio tour could streamline the process of walking up to a work of art, pulling out your phone, unlocking your phone, finding the audio tour website, waiting for it to load  the wifi is slow, signing in to the wifi, being redirected to the audio tour website, scrolling through to find the painting you’re standing in front of, clicking play, waiting for it to buffer, then finally getting a one minute blurb about the painting. This is what back pocket apps are designed to alleviate, which in a museum setting where curators (and some patrons) view the gallery as a sanctuary not to be intruded upon by technology, would be unobtrusive and useful.