You gotta hand it to Apple: gesture-based “soft” interfaces are coming to a PC near you

March 27, 2008

Gesture-based interfaces are looking like the next new thing.  One of the key features that iPhone aficianados love to show their friends is the multi-touch feature that allows them pinch their fingers or expand them to scroll and
manipulate images on the screen.   And, companies like Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, and Motorola are coming out with a number of  new “iClones” that offer similar software-based interfaces.

Anyone that caught some of CNN’s recent coverage of the primaries (“The best political team on television!”) couldn’t help noticing Wolf Blitzer and other commentators showing off their gesture-based interface (called Perceptive Pixel) to manipulate the state maps in order to further confuse viewers re: the evening’s voting outcome.  Wolf, we know Tom Cruise (in Minority Report mode), and you are no Tom Cruise. 

 Meanwhile, Microsoft is focusing its efforts on their Surface technology which is to be available in hotels and casinos but isn’t promising any tabletop (or PC) gesture-based interfaces for consumers until 2011. 

However, with the introduction of the new MacBook Air, Apple has introduced the first multi-touch applications for the plain old PC (using the touch pad rather than the actual screen).  And, last summer Apple filed a patent to expand their multi-touch interface into a host of other uses including copy, cut, paste and other common editing operations.  Get ready to start seeing more of these gesture-based interfaces introduced into Apple’s product line.

It will be interesting to see how these new soft interfaces will change the way we all conduct every-day PC-related tasks once they go beyond the hipster iPhone crowd and into the mainstream.  It’s already clear that software-driven interfaces (like the iPhone) will soon be replacing the clunky hardware of the present.

And, as these interfaces become more widespread there may be a host of new user experience issues to consider, especially for older users or those handicapped with arthritis or other muscle ailments that affect dexterity.  Will people be divided into those who can “pinch” and glide their way through an interface and those how are stuck with that old mouse and keyboard on their desk/laptop? 

Sources/Fun and Games:

Why get a Macbook Air to start using multi-touch on your PC?  Try it remotely on your Windows or Linux PC – for free (works with iPhone and iPod Touch):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWnbFZ-N-gU&eurl=http://hackedgadgets.com/page/2/

See CNN’s “Magic Wall” (and watch Jeffrey Toobin try to impress the ladies!):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybkidUnbjcE&feature=related

Microsoft Surface – “the coffee table that will change the world” !!!: but when can I use it on my PC?
http://www.microsoft.com/surface/index.html

Design guru Bill Buxton explains it all: a multi-touch history
http://www.billbuxton.com/multitouchOverview.html

Jason Harris at Gigaom gives you the 411 on new soft mobile interfaces, including Google’s Android:  http://gigaom.com/2008/02/29/why-2008-is-the-year-touch-will-revolutionize-the-mobile-market/

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Don’t plug that in. You don’t know where that gadget has been!

March 14, 2008

Here’s one of those little stories that might mean big consequences for electronics and software companies: today’s AP story featured on CNN’s technology page should be a wake-up call for those in the industry.

The solution? Maybe not ...

 It seems that mostly smaller, cheap electronic devices (such as the digital photo frame featured in the article) are getting infected with viruses – either unintentionally or by hackers – and passing the virus along to unsuspecting consumers’ PCs when they plug in the device. My guess is that we’ll see more news stories about this phenomenon as more gadgets enter the market from China and other places that lack strong quality control.(Image: gamespot.com)

The real shame is that these stories will be used to further blame the freewheeling global economy for creating stuff that we as consumers love so much but that the media and certain politicians use to blame when things go wrong, such as the recent problems with toxic Chinese toys. Cheap stuff often comes at a price, even if it isn’t at the cash register.

I agree that companies sending out or knowingly importing shoddy merchandise should be punished. But, in this case rather than continue to blame the manufacturers who can’t possibly control 100% of their testing prior to shipping out their gadgets, the focus should be on the software co’s running the applications. Sorry Microsoft but you guys need to be more creative about controlling this problem: “sealing the borders” by showing pop ups every minute on Vista doesn’t cut it and has created a user experience nightmare that has cost the company sales of its much maligned operating system.

Microsoft and their partners should be getting together and creating a Marshall Plan-like effort to re-tool their code rather than relying on third party sources like Norton and McAfee to do the heavy lifting. Lack of a seamless experience when it comes to keeping out unwanted viruses may just be the tipping point that moves consumers to the on-demand model that everyone has been predicting will happen for the last 5 years.

Let’s stop the blame game and come up with a vision for the future where we can plug in (almost) anything and not worry about unintended consequences.