Archive for January, 2007

Fluid User Interface

Om Malik discusses Fluid UI. Apple’s iPhone isn’t the only place it’s showing up. We’re beginning to see the practical expansion of the KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) human/computer interface.

This is a big win for the humans. Interfaces have been dominated by the computer side of the equation since the beginning. The theory being that the existence of a feature trumped the usability of a feature. By expanding the number of interaction point to include mouse gestures and multi-touch screens we start to really open up the interaction terrain between humans and computers.

The Phone is Dead

The blowback from the iPhone introduction is in full swing. If one posits that all publicity is good publicity, it’s been quite successful. One of the more interesting threads discusses the Closed Box aspect of the iPhone. Developers are upset that they can’t put their code on the iPhone. I wonder how upset they’d be if some other developer’s code caused OS X to crash on their phone just as they were expecting an important call? But of course it’s always other developers who write buggy code.

While I don’t think all computers should be closed boxes, I think there is an argument to be made for that position. If applications are primarily Web-based and Safari can sufficiently support the growing complexity of Web-based apps, then there’s a possibility of a different kind of openness. One of the worst things about computers for the average user is adding software, upgrading software, defending against unwanted software, making sure software is compatible, etc. If you can create a stable closed box based on a rock solid Unix operating system, you remove a large part of the noise in the user experience. Openness through Web apps and widgets might appear to be a step back for those who grew up during the personal computer revolution. It appears to be a victory for the client-server side. The fact is that both sides in that battle have transformed beyond recognition. Where client-server initially existed because of scarcity, and the desktop computer was the only reasonable path to abundance. Now the Network offers unexpected abundance and the personal computer is limited by disk size and a plague of maintenance duties.

Dave Winer complains that a product introduction should not be confused with news. I agree with this. It’s up to thoughtful bloggers to see through the hype and see if there’s anything new here. I see a couple of things. I see Unix on a small form factor device and a change in the KVM user interface.  This may be the beginning of the virtualization of the physical input device. Certainly it’s been done before, but never at this scale. Will our hands learn touch scrolling, pinching and the rest of these gestures? Typing seems to have suffered the biggest loss, it’s been reduced to a poor form of “hunt and peck.” The news seems to be that a standard user interface (keyboard and mouse) is not appropriate for all applications, and that a virtual physical interface opens up the possibility customizing the point of human/computer interaction for the particular function. For instance, ask yourself why gamers use joysticks and other input devices instead of keyboards.

Despite it’s slick looks, the iPhone is a device in its infancy. The news is that the phone is dead. Long live the, poorly named, iPhone. Software makes a computer anything, any application you need it to be. The iPhone can be a phone, but a phone is a function — not the thing itself. A computer is not a typewriter, and an iPhone is not a phone.