Apple recently released iOS 7, it’s new operating system for mobile devices. What Apple has done with iOS 7 successful, captivating, and practical software user interface. The redesigning of their color scheme and icons demonstrate Apples’ commitment to making the software not just a way to access an app or listen to music, but a way to enjoy every part of the technology that you’re using. The introduction of the Control Panel in iOS 7 promises new functionality and ease of access to commonly used features and settings and the intuitive new multi tasking design allows users to readily switch between commonly used apps.
The leaps and bounds that Apple has made in its software (for both their computers and mobile devices) have been paralleled across the world of technology over the past decade.
The development of software is vital to the way we interact with machines. Not every person is a computer specialist who can communicate with computers through lines of code dictating its every action. Most of us need colorful, easy access menus and flamboyant tiles and icons that not only allow us to utilize computers as integral parts of our everyday lives, but also allow us to be entertained while we’re at it.
However, while the universe of software has expanded significantly in recent decades, the world has seen little change in the ways we physically interact with machines. Essentially, everyone inputs data into their machine the same way an office worker in the 1960s would have for his IBM 610. The idea of plugging information through buttons dates decades back to the inception of the Bell telephone.
Likewise, we still use the mouse to direct our cursor around the screen and select objects to complete your task. While the first computers only saw action through the keyboard and other buttons, the mouse was an innovation of the ages in 1979. While the ‘79 design looks quite different from the mouse today, it nonetheless serves the same purpose.
The key point to draw out is that for almost 30 years the field of technology has seen little progress in the way we physically interact with machines. While the development of the touchscreen and its utilization in mobile devices offer a possible avenue for progress in our interactions with computers, the touch screen is only a small leap in the progression of our interactions with machines. Moreover, the current generation is reluctant to abandon their keyboard and mouse for a touch screen that offers only fingerprints and tired arms while demanding more money. The goal of hardware interface designers and innovators needs to mirror those of software interface designers: to please aesthetics and functionality.
Silicon Valley and the rest of the technology industry has taken notice of this lag in the development of a new physical interface. As such the past few years have seen young inventors and innovators attempt to take a leap into the unknown and pull the world with them. However, the world has been unwilling to be dragged into the future as the common user still cleaves onto familiarity.
The original computer’s interface was just a list of commands and typed phrases. From the ‘50s to the early ‘70s the only developments in this was in the human to hardware to software interaction. The original computer used only a QWERTY keyboard. This then developed into only command keys and a programmable magnetic card reader which enabled the user to quickly develop programs. During this time a monitor light pen was also developed and could be used to draw diagrams directly on the computer, it is considered to be an archetype of the mouse. The first major change in the software interface of a PC was the Xerox Alto which developed the desktop metaphor; the idea was to implement stationary materials onto the computer’s interface. It also featured the first computer mouse, however this computer was not commercially available; the first commercially available desktop metaphor GUI was the Xerox Star. During this time touch interfaces were also being developed. Myron W. Krueger, a computer artist, used this new technology to create “Video Place” which pioneered many multi-touch gestures that are used today.
Throughout the 1980s Apple began to develop its menu interfaces. Their Apple Lisa and Macintosh featured drop-down menus, a multi-window GUI, and a drag-and-drop interface. In the beginning of the new millennium, Apple began to focus on the design of its interface and visual appeal rather than its actual functionality. In 2007 they also released the first iPhone which created the standard for all interface designs for smartphones; this led to several lawsuits in the future. With the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2009, a whole new era of human-interface interaction began. The Wii was one of the first commercially successful products to use motion capturing technology on a major scale. This was also one of the first times that the human-interface interaction hardware changed, an idea that was developed further by the Leap Motion, a device that was to make it easier for 3D modeling on a computer.
Earlier this year a small company based in San Francisco called Leap Motion aspired to bring change to this mundane experience. It’s founders, David Holz and Michael Buckwald, imagined a world where the user no longer had to grasp onto a mouse, but could control their machine or device with a flick of their hand. Holz’s original inspiration came from his frustration in molding a ball of clay on a computer versus in person. This artistic inspiration parallels that of Myron Krueger, a computer artist who dreamed up a multi-touch interface in 1975. Holz’s Leap Motion projects a workspace above the device through which users can interact with their machines. However, both Krueger and Holz’s designs have seen severe setbacks in their “interface revolutions”. The multi-touch interface is impractical and offers only minute improvements to the interaction between humans and computers. Holz’s Leap Motion, though grand in thought, was ultimately a failure because of poor execution.
Hence, a void still remains in the technology industry for the next “new thing”. The world of technology has to dream even bigger than replacing just the mouse aspect of our interaction; imagine if our work was no longer confined to a screen. The futuristic notion of holographics has been constantly toyed with by inventors and scientists, but a commercial possibility of this is yet to be seen. This possibility of holographic interaction has been explored in hundreds of sci-fi novels and movies such as Iron Man.
Gone are the days where data is confined to a box in front of your face; a revolution of the interface could lead to hundreds of developments and will change the way we surf the internet, game, and even explore the world. It remains the responsibility of the human race to continue to test the consumer’s boundaries and explore to find the best possible way to improve the hardware interface. It remains the choice of the consuming world whether or not to accept every piece of new technology brought to them. The next advancement has to not just improve the way we communicate with machines, but enhance the way we interact with technology.
Google Glass and the MYO Armband by Thalmic Labs are two upcoming pieces of technology that have the potential to change the way we interact with machines in a dramatic way.
However while Glass may add a new piece of technology for us to integrate into our lives, it does not offer a clear solution to the problem of computer hardware interfaces. The solution to this may be the MYO, an armband that detects electric muscle impulses designed by Thalmic Labs. MYO’s revolutionary detecting features makes it just one more piece of technology with the potential to transform the technological universe as its success could denote the death of the mouse or even the end of an age where we actually touch our device. MYO offers many of the same features as Leap Motion except that it is not confined to a space above the device; the armband constantly detects specific hand movements.
It is difficult to predict whether our world will be transformed next January with the release of MYO and Glass or in 5 years by a different piece of technology. We may even see a leap forward in the development of commercial holograms whose use then ties into a piece of technology like MYO. However whatever the advancement is, there is no doubt that the future of technology lies in the hardware interface. The way we interact with machines has evolved slowly, but a growing interest in revolutionizing the interface may suggest soon to come change.