Sounds as Signifiers

Santiago de Chile Subway bip!

I love this Santigo de Chile prepaid public transportation ticket. A minimum investment of Ch$490 ≈ US$1 ≈ 0,75€ gets you a 2-hour ride, which you easily will max out in the public transportation nightmare of Santiago. The naming of the card resonates with the sound you hear when you use it to enter the subway. It describes the point of interaction in an auditory way. The short biiiip tells you that your card is valid, that you have just paid for the upcoming ride and that the gate is open for you to pass. So much information condensed in such a simple tone.

But let’s glimpse into the future a little, shall we? The number of interactions we perform with various devices per day is increasing. With the advent of NFC in mobile phones and various other pocketable devices (cards, stickers and so on) there soon will be a widely distributed ecosystem that supports the kind of touch-and-go style interactions described above.

Which auditory patterns will emerge? Who will be the first service provider to undisputedly have its touch-and-go service associated with a simple tone? Think about Nokia SMS notification tones back in the days, or for a more recent example, look at Apple and its ‘definition’ of pinch, wipe and zoom gestures for touch device interfaces. Whoever gets there first, has the power to shape our perception of what interaction should look, feel and sound like.

So, I’ll just leave you with that question: What does mobile payment, mobile ticketing, smart posters or pairing of two NFC devices sound like?

Who will shape the future?