Despite the breathless pace of change and innovation in the tech world, when you think about it, a lot of how we interact with technology has stayed pretty much the same for years.
After all, if the numbers are anything to go by, it’s quite likely that many of you are reading this very post on a computer with a regular keyboard and either a mouse or a trackpad. When you go home and watch TV, it will be with a remote control, the design of which hasn’t changed for a few decades. And it’s been this way for a long time now.
But you gotta wonder: where is the future of interfaces? Weren’t we supposed to be controlling computers with our brains by now? Or blinking to change TV channels? The only really radical shift in computer interfaces has been the arrival of touch-based screens – and while they can be pretty amazing, they’re excellent at some things, but not as great at others.
So what else lies on the horizon? What innovations will make using our technology easier, more intuitive and more accessible? Here are four trends that may define the future of technology interfaces:
Context Aware: Your Desk Is Not Just a Desk
Maybe this is just me, but have you ever plugged your MP3 player or camera into your computer and thought: isn’t this a little old-fashioned now? There’s gotta’ be a better way to do this, right?
Well apparently, I’m not the only one thinking this. The above video shows an interface that uses lasers and mirrors to be aware of what you’re doing around your computer. Put down your headphones on the desk and your music will pause. Place a wi-fi equipped camera next to your system and it will start to transfer photos. What’s more, the space next your keyboard can be used as an additional interface – like that used to control inventory in a game like World of Warcraft. It’s a smarter version of the desktop – and it looks amazing.
Of course, when it comes to a desk turning into an interface, it’s also impossible to ignore Microsoft’s Surface, as seen in the demonstration video below. While the tech has been limited to things like AT&T stores or hotels for now, its intuitiveness and wireless capabilities will no doubt see it become more widespread in the next few years.
Augmenting Reality With Awesomeness
Augmented reality – or AR – is a technology that layers information over reality. Think of it like the visual version of an audio tour in the museum – on any screen you have available, AR puts information over of our view of the world.
AR promises to integrate technology more deeply into our lives by mapping the all the messy information of the web atop the screens and lenses we look through, making information about our world accessible and immediate.
And it’s not just for kicks; it’s also really useful too. Check out this video of the AR features of the Yelp AR app to see how this tech can help you find things of interest near you.
Your Body IS the Interface, Man
More and more, technology is becoming integrated not just into our lives, but into our bodies too. And the thing is, sci-fi nightmares aside, it makes sense. Even as tech becomes smaller and smaller, you still need a space for interfaces – so why not your own body? (cue jokes about people touching themselves!).
Sure, as the video above shows, right now it’s very experimental tech. But rather than dragging your iPhone out of your pocket every time you want to change a song, imagine simply touching your arm to do so. Or pressing different parts of your hand to surf the web. It’d be pretty cool, right? Turning the body into an interface would, by its very nature, make technology more intuitive to use.
Of course, the icing on the cake would be melding body-tech with augmented reality: I’m thinking AR contact lenses that display information that reacts to movements on your fingers. Somebody get on inventing that, please.
Motion: What Wii Hath Wrought
When Nintendo announced its latest home console, oh how we laughed; I still can’t say “the light on my Wii is glowing blue” without smirking a little. But the unprecedented success of Nintendo’s little white box shows one thing clearly: people really like motion controls.
But motion controls won’t always be limited to games. After all, what the Wii showed was the all the buttons and tricks we tech-geeks are familiar with can often be a barrier to others. Motion control simplifies things to make interacting with tech more accessible.
Case in point: although Microsoft’s Natal is obviously going to be aimed at gamers first, the folks at Redmond haven’t shied away from talking about its potential as an interface for non-gaming related activities – and that’s what the above clip shows.
What we sometimes forget is that it’s how technology ‘feels’ that can be important. Just like scrolling through albums on an iPhone, using something like Natal to browse your media collection seems like it would be a more tactile, immediate experience than simply clicking something from a list.
Given that Sony will also let you control the XMB with PS Move, it seems that motion controls, are reaching their tipping point, and will spill over into the mainstream soon.
What Do You Think Is The Future of Interfaces?
Of all the new innovations listed here, what do you think is the most viable or useful? And what changes would you personally like to see to make technology more accessible, intuitive – and fun to use?