Future of Interactions – Touch More Than Glass

Screenshot mosaicOne of the questions that I often get about my iPad is “how can I take typing on there?” I don’t mind. But, I do know that I have about a 1000 word limit for typing on it. The screen is glass. Hard glass. Great for swyping, pinching, and typing a small amount of things where my fingers get a break – horrible for the longer-form stuff (you know, the length of which I usually write here). So, you can imagine that I have a vision of interaction with computing devices that has to go beyond tapping on glass right? I do. But, I found someone who said it a whole lot better.

Here’s a snippet from Brent Victor’s Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design:

…I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

Is that so bad, to dump the tactile for the visual? Try this: close your eyes and tie your shoelaces. No problem at all, right? Now, how well do you think you could tie your shoes if your arm was asleep? Or even if your fingers were numb? When working with our hands, touch does the driving, and vision helps out from the back seat.

To take this to an extreme, imagine that you’re completely blind. Yeah, that’s a tough life, but you can still pretty much take care of yourself and do the things that people do. Do you know what it’s called when you lose all sense of touch? It’s called paralysis, and they push you around in a wheelchair while you calculate black hole radiation.

Pictures Under Glass is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It’s a Novocaine drip to the wrist. It denies our hands what they do best. And yet, it’s the star player in every Vision Of The Future.

To me, claiming that Pictures Under Glass is the future of interaction is like claiming that black-and-white is the future of photography. It’s obviously a transitional technology. And the sooner we transition, the better…

Can you hear me now?

Like him, I really do like some of the ideas that come from those looking at how we interact with devices. But, I know for a fact that I get much more ancy when I see those concepts that do more than just take an action that I can already do now and adds gloss to it.

Its kind of the reason why I don’t mind saying that I can get rid of my iPad if I had a few tweaks to my Nokia N8 right now. My N8 is able to drive several screens, I use it when presenting because it can do so. But, I interact with it differently. I don’t need to even look at it – I’ve got a Bluetooth wireless controller for thsoe moments and that experience is awesome. It has knowledge of speed and tempo when I’m using Sports Tracker. It even can measure itself in space. However, there aren’t apps, or even operating system paradigms which take advantage of that. Its stuck in a point-and-do mode, and that’s really a shame to what the device is able to to.

I am not long after a conversation with an aunt talking about getting my little cousin an iPad. My little cousin wants a laptop/netbook – but its probably the case that she gets an iPad instead. The interaction model of the iPad is closer to that of what she does naturally with yarn, paints, language (yea, language is treated like a physical interaction layer for her, its awesome), etc. And for he to use computing that so disconnects her from that is a problem. The issue is, the iPad is also an insulated computing event. It isn’t designed to go that far towards immersive computing experinces. It can’t. Its just a pictures and glass experience.

But, we can go further. I’ve seen as much with tech such as Nokia’s Haptikos (all the way back in 2007 for those interested). We can do more with touch and gestures than tap, drag, pinch, and swipe. There’s an amazing wealth of activity within the sense of touch that many of these videos, and largely most of our (insert sarcaism) advanced mobile devices (end sarcaism) should be able to do now without much more than using our heads. Developers should be choming at the bit to doing this – standards bodies should be challenged to keep up.

I can’t speak for all of you. I want to engage with the tech of the future. But it has to be more than touching glass or speaking into clouds. We can do more. Our future should be much more like our bodies were designed.

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