Responsive Hardware Interfaces

A few weeks ago, Microsoft shows us a Productivity Future Vision, just the typical cinematic hollywood-esque concept show-off of futurology of products (a friend used to call it “hollywood OS”) they probably won’t ever make or do just too late after the competition captures all the market. Ok, that’s a little harsh, but late Ballmer’s Microsoft history tell us that.

Bret Victor on his Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design points out all what is wrong with this video. He says:

” …this vision, from an interaction perspective, is not visionary. It’s a timid increment from the status quo, and the status quo, from an interaction perspective, is actually rather terrible.”

And he is right, all the video shows, are really cool cinematic effects, but you can find a ton of interaction issues on it. But the main problem is that in that future we all still interact with the digital data with on finger over a glass. It’s like if in the late 90’s we envisioned a future where all interaction are done with a 2 button mouse.

Bret even suggest some paths that could enrich the future of interaction where we use our full body to interact instead of just one finger.

As I see this problem, the initial road could be mark with Chris Harrison concept with his 2009 paper Providing Dynamically Changeable Physical Buttons on a Visual Display. He envision a that a thin transparent layer over the glass of touch based devices could adapt to reflect a soft keyboard with volume so you could feel it. I thought that solution was already on the works, but as it looks it just on paper.

But, what if we could expect more adaptable hardware around our software? What if we could have Responsive Hardware Interfaces as we have Responsive website designs. It will be hardware that could adapt its form and function depending of the task we want to do, it can be done with Smart Materials or even nanobots.

Imagine you take out of your pocket your mobile device, launch your favorite game that links to your big display on your living room and then, your mobile device change its form and function to a game pad for a better and more comfortable experience.

This could be applied to a variety of tools. Imagine you won’t need a set of specialized screw drivers, you could have just one that can shift its shape to whatever form you need. Or even a simple task as making cookies for your kids, where you could have just on piece of metal that can change its form to whatever you want, a star a half moon, a man… And all this could be done with software, you can even buy more shapes for this devices on your online app store making them more useful over time.

But not necessarily all interfaces will be tangible or manipulable, there is a lot of room for various type of them, specially for Natural Language Interfaces like the recently introduced Siri Assistant.

One thing is clear, touch based interfaces, or Pictures Under Glass as Bret puts it, are a real advance in interaction, but it is the Now not the future as Microsoft wants us to believe.

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