Earlier this month, Google announced its acquisition of Songza, a music streaming service that builds playlists by anticipating what type of song the user will want to hear next. The acquisition is undoubtedly meant to bolster Google’s music offerings in light of Apple’s Beats acquisition in May and Amazon’s foray into music streaming with the recent launch of Prime Music — but there’s more in play here than a simple extension strategy.

What makes Songza unique among its competitors is its focus on context. Songza’s playlists are curated through a synthesis of algorithmic AI and input from human DJs, factoring in variables such as time of day, location, activity, and weather to predict what a specific user will want to hear at that exact moment in time. Whereas streaming services like Beats & Spotify require users to actively explore and build playlists from expansive catalogs, Songza lets you sit back and relax while it plays music it’s pretty sure you’re going to love. Think Pandora, but instead of a playlist inspired by an artist or genre, you’re getting one built specifically for someone driving home alone on a rainy summer night.

In a cacophonous digital world where inexhaustible content sources fight every day for a user’s attention, Songza’s context-driven strategy works because it cuts through the noise and provides a highly valuable experience with little work required of the user. The tradeoff between value and effort sits at the heart of the rise of context. “We’re moving to a time when context is king,” Songza executive Elias Roman said in an interview with CNET News. “Technology is about to work a lot harder for us.”

Context Everywhere

Songza is a natural fit for Google, which leaned heavily into its context-driven products at its I/O conference last month. At the conference, Google announced Android Wear, its wearable technology OS that hinges on the delivery of highly specific contextual experiences that unify a user’s digital life with the world around her. 

Imagine walking into a store and being alerted that an outfit you pinned on Pinterest is two aisles down. When a friend is late to dinner, Android Wear could alert you when he’s a couple of blocks away so you don’t have to badger him with texts. If you like to keep your evenings quiet, Android Wear could mute any notifications for work email until the morning.The possibility for contextual digital technology are endless, especially considering Google’s recent acquisition of Nest that could extend these adaptive, personalized experiences into a user’s connected home. But no matter the channel, the vision for contextual design is to deliver high value experiences without requiring users to pull out their phones and dig through mountains of apps — freeing up precious time that can be spent interacting with people in the real world.

 

Your Brain: The Ultimate Context

Experiences personalized by location and activity are certainly valuable, but what if digital experiences could be built around the ultimate contextual input: your thoughts? What if your wearables could tell that you’re focused on a movie poster and offer to play the trailer, or know that you’re thinking about dinner and recommend a recipe? This future might be closer than you think. This week,
London-based interactive studio This Place announced a Google Glass app called MindRDR that leverages a Neurosky EEG biosensor to allows users to control Google Glass with their minds. The biosensor reads brainwaves correlated with our ability to focus, and snaps a photo of the user’s view once focus has reached a certain level. 

Though this functionality is relatively primitive, the larger significance is the link being forged between our devices and our minds. As MindRDR’s technology is developed and refined, contextual experiences based on a user’s thought patterns will forever change the way we interact with technology.

Start Building Contextual Experiences Now

However, there’s no reason to wait for a mind-reading future to start creating valuable contextual user experiences. Every consumer-facing company should examine user needs and behaviors and develop a context-driven digital strategy. Take advantage of native functionality and build mobile apps that leverage user location and activity data to give users exactly what they want, when they want it. By seamlessly delivering high value contextual experiences with minimal user effort, any company can become a trust digital partner and establish a strong, continued relationship with its users.