Written by WATYF on Friday, 10 February 2006 (8007 hits)
How many nerds, like myself, watched Minority Report and remember that scene where Tom Cruise was working with the "future telling" machine thingy and he was dragging visuals around in mid-air and using that wicked cool user-interface to check out all the crimes that hadn't happened yet? How many of you also remember thinking how cool of a UI that was, but that it wasn't very realistic and probably wouldn't be a "real-world" technology any time soon (if ever)?
Anyone? Come on... of all the countless thousands of people who real this blog every day (whuh?!) there has to be someone else who thought that. I dunno... it just came across to me as being a bit too "Jetsons"... a nice piece of eye-candy, but just not a technology that I could see being developed for widespread use.
Well,... I'm happy to say that my initial gut feeling was wrong...
Apparently, a group of NYU students have developed a multi-touch interface called FTIR (frustrated total internal reflection) that may very well be the precursor to the "Minority Report" kind of technology being used as a part of our daily lives. At this point it's only in the "research" stage, but if you check out the video, you can see that they are already using it for some very realistic functionality....
This isn't the first time multi-touch screens (interfaces that allow multiple contact points simultaneously) have been developed... I've heard of similar (but more primitive) devices being used in children's "Science Museums" and what not... and there are a few multi-touch devices out on the market... but this is the first time (that I've seen) where a touch-screen technology like this is being demonstrated as a practical application.
The most impressive thing about this new UI is not the "screen" itself, but the software they've written to actually make use of the screen's abilities. During the demo, you can see how subtle changes in the finger movement/position alter what function is being performed (zoom/rotate/whatever). Usually, these types of technologies (new... exciting... etc) are paired up with worthless "eye candy" software that do nothing more than "wow" you with some fancy footwork, but which have no underlying substance that translates to something you could actually find yourself using as an indispensable tool. But if you watch the video, you'll see that in addition to the "flashy" type demos, they also show the user doing every day tasks (typing, navigating a desktop-like interface, browsing a map, etc). I'm really hoping that something like this works it's way into the marketplace sooner than later, because I for one would probably wet my pants in anticipation of using it.
The funny thing is, I just had a coworker in my cube this morning who was watching me work and was marveling (as most of my coworkers tend to do whenever they hover over me while I'm working) at how fast I move from screen to screen and jump from code window to Excel to Access using a combination of keystrokes and mouse clicks (no... I don't expect you to be the least bit impressed ). The point is... as much as everyone I know thinks I'm stupid fast at maneuvering in a PC environment, I've always found the typical mouse/keyboard combo to be a bit limiting. My mind is always moving ahead of what's going on on the screen. So imagine an interface where there's nothing between you and what you see... no keyboard... no mouse... no trackball... no stylus... just you and a UI that reacts to however fast you can move your hands. I'm getting all hot and bothered just thinking aboot it.
The great thing about this interface is that it's not just good for nerds. It's good for all kinds of software users. Architects, engineers, graphic artists, web designers, you name it. This type of UI would be just as amazing when working with my audio recording software (Pro Tools). For all you audio geeks, imagine being able to drag the edit window off to the side and grab a couple faders with both hands and move em around and then drag the mix widow aside and pull down the edit window and start splicing waveforms by hand.... that would be freaking sweet! One of the things I like least about mixing in the box is how limiting it is to use the mouse to change faders and pots... one at a time. But not with something like this.
And imagine a laptop enabled with this type of technology.... it would make a tablet PC look like a quill and parchment. The possibilities are endless.
But there is some bad news.... Unfortunately, the patent for the UI was secured by Apple (*sigh*) ....which means that this great new technology will, no doubt, get saddled with a crippling dependancy on one piece of software (probably called iLookAtThePrettyColors or something like that), and will only be availble when you buy a computer that costs three times as much as a comparable PC (but looks nicer).
That's OK... give it a year or two and Microsoft will steal it from them and develop it into a technology that can run on any PC and that's written in a standard that anyone can code for (without having to sell their firstborn child into slavery just to become "certified" in ).