Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More Tangible User Interfaces

Thanks to the wonders of Reddit (a link submission and ranking site), I found an article from Smashing Magazine that outlines what they consider to be the user interfaces of the future. I find it interesting that almost all of them are very clearly what I would call tangible user interfaces, which I wrote about earlier this month.

First up is the Cheoptics360 XL 3D video screen. Though it's difficult to tell exactly what's happening in the press video as opposed to seeing it in person, it looks like this setup will essentially present a video that can be viewed from any angle as you walk around the structure. It's not clear whether the video will look 3D to the viewer. The creators of this technology seem to tout it as a good way to get product information out there, and Smashing Magazine thinks it is the future of gaming. I'd like to add a third possibility: education. Can you imagine how great it would be for a museum to present video of an artifact in life size rather than having to physically display it? This is especially true for those things that can't be brought indoors, or that don't exist anymore; for example, you could present the streets of Germany after the WWII bombing in a war museum, or have an interactive view of dinosaurs in a natural history museum.

I believe this next example has been around for some time now, but it still impresses me. The Reactable "is a collaborative electronic music instrument with a tabletop tangible multi-touch interface." What an amazing idea for a totally new kind of music making device! It appears that even Icelandic singer Björk is on board with this one, using it in her Volta tour. The fact that this system is easy to learn without any manuals or instructions makes it a perfect way to help children learn about music. After all, no parent loves the sound of their kids learning the recorder!

The example photos of the showcased research on multi-touch interfaces can really remind you of the movie Minority Report. Check out this video, presented by a company that spun off from the research linked to by Smashing Magazine, Perceptive Pixel. Now, many of the tangible user interfaces discussed today make use of the multi-touch paradigm, so this isn't necessarily all that unique; however, the video really gives you a good feel for what multi-touch is all about. Notice the many different ways the hands are used to interact with the data presented on the screen: zooming, panning, drawing, tilting, and so on. These movements are very natural in a real-world kind of way.

Finally we have the BumpTop. This interface ditches the usual GUI desktop paradigm, which doesn't keep the connection between what documents laid out on a real desk look like and how they can be arranged on the screen. With BumpTop, you can pile your files up just like in the real world, organizing your stuff just how you want it. It is claimed that these piles and arrangements convey information about the data in themselves.

It is examples like these that continue to convince me that the future of user interfaces lies in the innovative solutions that bridge the gap between the physical and digital world. Long live tangible user interfaces!

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