For nearly twenty years now, the computer to human interface has been keyboard, mouse and screen. Who, even just a couple of years ago, would have thought that that interface would soon be challenged by a multitude of methodologies and technologies? I think there were a few visionaries who did, but, for the most part, not many probably gave it a second thought. Well, I think that is going to change and probably quicker than most thought.
There were many new ways of interacting with our technology that were shown off over the last few years, but the success of the iPhone has really brought alternative input and interactive methods to the forefront. Now, iPhone was not the first device to use multitouch, but it has made it mainstream and, since that introduction, a flurry of devices have come to market that use multitouch or some form of touch technology. Microsoft had already demonstrated the Surface table computer, but it was very expensive, not a commercial product and, well, its a big ass table.
Companies like HP and Acer have introduce computers with touch screens, but they have been more of a gimmick than a practical means of input. Fortunately, Windows 7 will make touch a more common interface type. Windows 7 has native touch ability and an API that developers can use. Indeed, HP will be taking advantage of it in several exciting new computers.
Nintendo, with the Wii, introduced the idea of motion control to the populous and with great effect. While some of the software for the Wii is gimmicky, Nintendo and other companies have proven that, done right, motion control is natural and very effective. So much so that Sony and Microsoft are both adding their own take to the motion control arena.
Nintendo also introduced the DS several years ago with touch control and audio input. Games that take advantage of the then new input methods used them very nicely. Nintendo has a history of thinking outside the box when it comes to innovative controllers and input schemes.
But, iPhone is the king of the mountain at the moment and, as such, a host of other companies are concentrating on the multitouch technology. Palm, Microsoft, RIM and others have introduced devices that use multitouch. The Pre, Zune HD and the Storm and Storm 2 are good examples. The problem, though, is that with these devices, those companies had to rethink the on-screen interfaces as well.
The ubiquitous pinch and flick motions required a new paradigm. Palm calls its windows ‘cards’. You can open cards, slide them up off the screen, sideways to switch, etc. The Zune HD allows you to flick your finger up or down to scroll through a menu. You get the idea. The standard window-mouse-keyboard layouts simply don’t work all that well with these new touch technologies. And that has huge implications for today’s operating systems. Windows and Mac OS X can be adapted, but they really won’t work very well going forward. We need a fresh start. A new approach to the on-screen interface is needed.
Enter 10/GUI. 10/GUI is a different way to both present information on screen and accept a multitouch physical interface. The philosophy is that a vertical monitor with touch screen is not good since one’s arms would get tired very quickly. It is fine for an occasional touch, swipe or other motion, but not for continuous use. The horizontal touch screen puts strain on your neck, plus your hands would obscure the screen. 10/GUI’s approach is the touch panel on the surface of the desktop and the screen is vertical. You could still have a keyboard, but you’d not really need one. 10/GUI can use all ten of your fingers for input gestures. It also re-thinks the on-screen interface. Rather than having lots of overlapping windows, you have a horizontal ribbon. The ribbon would show your active windows which you can scroll through with the swipe of a finger. The edge of the window or screen brings up your context menus. The software interprets your finger gestures and executes what ever has been programmed for the gesture (and, no, I don’t mean THAT gesture!)
10/GUI is but one example of an alternate human-computer interface. There are others. No matter the input mechanism, it is going to be visual presentation that is going to make or break what ever technology supplants the keyboard and mouse combination. There’s even audio input and output, but I’d really hate to work in an environment where everyone is talking to their computer and that is why I am a bit closed minded about auditory input. Maybe for dictation and for the blind, but I think it will remain a niche. Physical interaction, with your arms and hands, are going to be the future. Perhaps it will involve THAT gesture, perhaps not. At any rate, it is going to be exciting to watch it all develop.