John Markoff’s article in the Sunday Times about PicLens Software from Cool Iris is a nice preview of the evolution of the human-computer interface. I like Doug Engelbart as much as the next guy, but you’d think we could move beyond 1968, the icon, the mouse and the window. Multi-touch, Surface, Coverflow and PicLens point the way toward other methods of navigating through collections of objects.
The point of interest for me is that PicLens was written for the web, not the desktop. And not the web of the browser window, but a space outside of that comfortable frame. Once the web becomes the primary environment for innovation in human/computer interaction, the function of the desktop changes. Even the metaphor of a “desktop” starts to make less sense.
There are many examples of terminal imaginations, visions so strong and so complete they leave no oxygen for followers. Shakespeare, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett left no room for others. (See Bloom’s Ruin the Sacred Truths) Engelbart’s vision has dominated a generation.
As the network is extended to more devices and more locations, historically this has meant a return to cruder interaction models. The introduction and success of the iPhone may have broken the pattern, it actually expands the available modes of interaction over the desktop. We are at the edge of an expansion of our interaction models; it’s generational, and digital natives will have to carry the torch.