Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's Next for Computer Interfaces?

Technology Review - December 11, 2008, by Kate Greene
Photo Credit: Patrick Baudisch

Touch tricks for small and large displays could be the next big thing.

Earlier this week, the humble computer mouse celebrated its 40th birthday. While surprisingly little has changed since Doug Engelbart, an engineer at Stanford Research Institute, in Palo Alto, CA, first demonstrated the mouse to a skeptical crowd in San Francisco, we may have already seen a few glimpses of the future of computer interfaces. If so, over the next few years, the future of the computer interface will likely revolve around touch.

Thanks to the popularity of the iPhone, the touch screen has gained recognition as a practical interface for computers. In the coming years, we may see increasingly useful variations on the same theme. A couple of projects, in particular, point the way toward interacting more easily with miniature touch screens, as well as with displays the size of walls.

One problem with devices like the iPhone is that users' fingers tend to cover up important information on the screen. Yet making touch screens much larger would make a device too bulky to slip discreetly into a pocket.

A project called nanoTouch, developed at Microsoft Research, tackles the challenges of adding touch sensitivity to ever-shrinking displays. Patrick Baudisch and his colleagues have added touch interaction to the back of devices that range in size from an iPod nano to a watch or a pendant. The researchers' concept is for a gadget to have a front that is entirely a display, a back that is entirely touch sensitive, and a side that features buttons.

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