Multi-touch, the Musical! or The next wave for UI

Just the beginning…

With all the talk of multi-touch, surface computing, and mobile technology, let’s think, for a moment, where we’re all headed. Given the fact that we are all gadget geeks and give the fact that most of us will use Windows until we’re old and gray, we need to start talking about future interfaces that might supplant the standard OS entirely, multi-touch or no. Thankfully, Microsoft and Apple are already on that road — some are further than others — but I worry that we’re going to get lost in the rush to multi-touch, the “desktop metaphor” of our era, and forget some other interesting developments.

Interfaces, be they keyboard, touchscreen, or anything else under the sun, are a way to convert physical intent into computer commands. We could — and often do — control computers with piano keyboards, guitar strings, and bird feeders (bird on feeder – 1, bird off feeder – 0. Might make for some good fractals). But after playing with speech recognition, I’m convinced we shouldn’t be touching our computers at all. These, I feel, are the next big step in PC UI

3D space manipulation – Where the desktop metaphor changed the way we do office work, the 3D space metaphor will change the way we engineer. Virtual reality has come a long way since the days of Lawnmower Man and I honestly believe the next step in the “surface” computing metaphor is to remove the surface. Real time manipulation of forms — be they car models or circuit boards — will change the way we think about space. I haven’t seen much in this direction yet, but CAD coupled with 3D hologram imaging would be a killer app for engineers.

Voice commands with intentFord Sync is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voice control. While I’m glad I can call anyone in my phone book using voice control, I’d like to be able to talk to anything on my personal network and have those objects figure out what I need. If I need to write a document, I tell my phone to open a new note and I start talking. The recorded audio goes into a converter and ends up as an email or document on my desktop at home. The same could go for appointments, contacts, or even music downloads. It’s not hard but it requires a complex device infrastructure and interactivity that most device marketers can’t stomach.

Body response – This is on my wish-list: galvanic response along with body sensing. I’m at a party and my little handheld senses I’m a bit stressed. It samples the environment, reads what I’m talking about, and offers talking points in a discrete ear bud including the name of the person I’m talking to.

Brain stimulation – This is the end of the road. Once we can unobtrusively add brain prostheses without looking like the Terminator after a climactic battle, we’re done. While I’d hate to see what we look like after a few years of PC-to-brain interaction and little physical exertion (think fat person in vat), this is where it’s headed. Upgrading the hardware is going to be a bitch, though.