Frictionless tech hasn’t been formally defined, but it’s generally understood to be the removal of barriers between the digital and physical experience to make it easier.
For years, Silicon Valley’s top tech companies had declared war on friction. Facebook, Google and Apple took it upon themselves to remove as much friction as possible from the consumer experience. For Facebook, it started with a platform that allowed students to connect with each other. For Google, it started by making finding answers easier than ever before. For Apple, it started with inventing the first full-blown handheld computer—the iPhone.
We don’t always call it “frictionless,” but we experience frictionless technological experiences every day. The experience is exemplified in apps like HotelTonight, where consumers can contact a hotel, book a room, and pay for it all within one interface. The old friction—calling the hotel, speaking with a concierge, handing over a credit card—was removed. Silicon Valley determined those old-school steps to be friction, so they developed products that removed them entirely.
Frictionless technology, as we know it today, was born in the ’00s when the advent of the iPhone placed an entire computer at every consumer’s fingertips.
A 2013 New Yorker article stated that frictionless technology is so “beautifully designed that using it is intuitive, and it evokes a fantasy in which all inefficiencies, annoyances, and grievances have been smoothed out of existence.” And in the article, Dave Morin—former Facebook and Apple employee and founder of then-social network Path—said that “one of his company’s goals is to make technology increasingly seamless with real life.” That seamless tech-to-life ideology is what’s carried our society through the fastest-growing technological advances in history.
In English, that all means that today’s frictionless technology is so frictionless that we barely even notice it’s happening. When we book a ride through Uber or Lyft, pay for our coffee through contactless means or order groceries right from our phones, we think of that as a simple convenience.