Tuesday 5 June 2007

Surface computing

A couple of days ago I picked up this video from TechCrunch demonstrating Microsoft's new surface computing product. Surface computing is an admirable attempt to deconstruct the prevalent user interface paradigm and introduce more natural human computer interfaces into our everyday lives. The video is certainly impressive, reminiscent of Minority Report's gestural interfaces, with seamless integration with mobile devices.

Certainly when I've given these kind of interfaces a go on traditional computers, I've initially been impressed by the eye-candy, but have soon reverted to the traditional interface for quickly and easily performing everyday tasks. However, when you move away from power-users, and workhorse tasks, these interfaces could genuinely lower the barriers of technology - I can see my parents managing their digital photos on such a platform, whereas I dispair of them ever emptying their SDcard currently.

More importantly, in the long term such interfaces will become vital as embedded computing becomes more ubiquitous. When your clothes have embedded CPUs and you carry your personal area network with you, interfaces will need to evolve beyond windows and menus. It's reassuring to see that Microsoft of all companies, is thinking outside the box here and is going beyond just embedding a computer in a table (think the failed promise of kiosks) to produce something which delivers us new interactions and sets us thinking that maybe we've all been lured into a dead-end local maxima of interface design centred around the diminishing returns from the refinement of windows, menus and more recently ribbons. The field is wide open for innovative ideas to become tomorrows de-facto standards; just maybe this product could herald the start of some real progress in interface design after years of stagnation.

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