The Interface Layer
A year ago, Scott Belsky's article in Medium described the "Interface Layer" as the future of UX design. The Interface Layer is essentially a designed interface that aggregates underlying technologies into an experience that is more convenient than using the aggregated services separately. By consolidating the functionality afforded by multiple APIs into one interface, you can create a more convenient tool. Take a look into Belsky's vision of the future in this excerpt from his article:
I woke up this morning and grabbed the nearest screen. I selected my transportation for the day, refills of groceries I am running low on, what sandwich I want for lunch, a time window for my apartment to be cleaned, a dry-cleaning pick-up, and a reservation for dinner. I also selected a gift for my sister’s birthday, from a suggested list curated for me. After a productive 5 minutes, I got up and had breakfast.
You may assume I used Uber, and then Fresh Direct or Amazon Fresh, and then Seamless, and other speciality apps and services striving to iron out the logistics from my life. Maybe I did, but I’m not sure. Why? Because I took all these actions through a beautiful and customized interface that aggregates such services and blends them all together into a more integrated and frictionless experience.
Belsky uses popular services like Uber and Amazon to make the point that it will be the design that ultimately creates value. While I doubt that all these companies will offer up their technology to third parties, I agree with Belsky in that users prefer an aggregation of services and apps that do more. With the atomization of apps that has been occurring since the launch of the smart phone, it's easy to get overwhelmed in the seemingly endless number of options. The Interface Layer offers simplicity and convenience. By offering the option to get an Uber in Google Maps, Uber is differentiating from the competition. At the same time, Uber is missing out on branding and advertising opportunities by letting users access their service outside of their app. It is interesting to see how this playing out today in the sharing economy. Let's take a look at what this could mean for audio platforms.
Music's Interface Layer
Audio platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify and BandCamp already offer their APIs to third party apps and bloggers. While I'm sure these companies would prefer that you use their native apps to listen to music, they get free advertising when a blog posts a song using their service. Before the Interface Layer, being shareable was top on the list for audio platforms. Now HypeMachine and other music aggregators are taking advantage of these generous APIs and offering an Interface Layer that aggregates content being shared from blogs. These companies are really shaking up the industry because the user could potentially become more loyal to the interface than the service beneath the Interface Layer.
Ultimately, the user wins in this battle because they gain more access to the music they love, but how does this affect the companies providing the audio services? To combat commodity pricing and lost brand loyalty, your platform has to have a differentiator. Like many other industries, UX design is emerging as the key differentiator for audio platforms. I think you will find that good UX design will become a priority for audio service platforms because it is the user experience that decides which audio app will survive. In addition, audio platforms should be making investments and plays in the Interface Layer to ensure their product isn't lost in an API. Audio platforms will always offer more capabilities in their native apps, but the problem is getting hung up on features. Audio companies need to transform their applications from a product into a great user experience. In the age of the Interface Layer, user-centered design must extend beyond the core of your product and influence every aspect of your application.