Tuesday, November 3, 2009


One of my current projects involves innovations in user interfaces. I must say it's a fascinating topic: everyone remembers how futuristic the glove-cum-transparent touch screen in "Minority Report" was - and yet it's happening as we speak!

That and much more. Since the Wii and the iPhone came out, it has been a true arms race towards increasingly intuitive and easy to use user interfaces. The trend is so strong that today consumers simply expect every gadget to have a touch screen. Just look at someone holding a Kindle for the first time and you will see him touching the e-ink page in the hopes of getting any reaction from the poor piece of Amazon hardware.

As with everything American, this war has a legal component. In January 2009 Apple was awarded a patent on touch interfaces and a touch language. I didn't check out the exact terms of the patent, but as a principle I can only say that patenting a language (as in "two taps: open") can hardly be a good thing.

But mostly interesting of all is how fast the trend is evolving. We are barely getting used to touch surfaces and Microsoft announced they created a "controllerless" controller, that is, a piece of hardware that recognizes your face, voice and body movements, so that you can play games simply by moving your body.

So, if that's sound impressive, about the brainwave-activated controllers? I tested one at the Berkeley Haas School of Business last year and was impressed. thay are still very basic (only two or three 'commands' are possible) but the potential is there. Proof thereof is this Toyota wheelchair prototype, controlled exclusively with brainwaves.

So there you have it, a nice evolution of controlling technologies: keyboard to touchscreen, then a touchless body movement recognition engine, then finally the ultimate connection with your brain, no movements necessary.

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