Like Flying Cars, Only Real

In recent years, there’s been a shift in the way that we interact with computers both in frequency, setting, and methods. We use them constantly, everywhere and interface with the little gizmos and doohickeys on the screen directly with our hands and voice instead of via some clunky and in some ways atavistic peripheral (I’m looking at you, keyboard…).

While we have always expected that we’d end up going in the direction we find our vectors orienting, we are now more and more able to realize the visions of leaders like Ben Shneiderman, Scott Hudson, and James Foley to name a few – both on a technical level as well as a social level, as people become more and more accustomed to interacting with, relying upon, and living among computers.

We’ve seen some great innovations coming out of Apple, obviously, with the iOS touch devices. It is hard to recall that prior to the wide success of the iPod and future i-Devices, touch interaction was not at all the norm, and even when available it was often difficult to use. Now, of course, very few prefer an additional hardware keyboard  on their phones and other pocket devices as we’ve become acclimated to using touch, swipes, and gestures to accomplish what we need. Microsoft, too, has shown great innovation by following Nintendo’s Wii with the even more advanced and future-feeling Kinect in the games realm and the Surface in the world of kiosks. Today, they released a video detailing some of their new ideas for the upcoming version on Windows. Though the integration with existing as-we-know-them Windows applications like Excel seems bolted on, the overall experience seems much more natural and intuitive, and will hopefully improve as development continues, mistakes are corrected, and user’s expectations shift.

Up until now, outside of games, we haven’t seen these new interaction patterns enter our home in the same way they’ve established themselves in our pockets, on the bus, or in a bank. It’s exciting to see Microsoft, and surely others too, begin making a push towards these new and more ways of interacting with computers that will afford both those without impediments as well as those with disabilities, lack of literacy or poor vision access to technology and information in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. While there will surely be growing pains, it’s an exciting time to be involved both as a consumer of technology as well as a developer.