The Future of UI

machine hand touching human handHuman interface devices are keyboards, mice and screens, things that allow us to give and get information to and from computers. Combined with how software allows us to interact with machines, this is known as User Interface. For the last 70 years or so, User Interfaces have stayed more or less the same. That is beginning to change, though, and in a big way. Haptic interfaces have made their way onto the scene in earnest with the iPhone, iPad and others, ostensibly changing the way we give and get information from machines. When my little boy is my age, computers won’t demand that we sit in front of a screen and type on keyboards or move a mouse around.

Voice recognition, for example, including technologies like Siri have made a new leap for the average bear as friendly as can be. Talking to machines, while friendly, still takes a shift in how we think about interacting with them.

While this type of User Interface (UI) will be a lot more natural, it will also be interesting to see how we will manage our attention spans and the constant multitasking as these tools become pervasive or “always on.” Case in point: we all know someone who sits down for a coffee with us only half-present, constantly checking their phone or device. When computing is always available will it make more of us less present? Could it make us better at multitasking (or at least by appearances)? If technology is more natural and less intrusive, could it help enable our capacity for communication? The upside, in any case is a more perfected version of UI: there when we need/want and not there when we don’t need/want.

I once bought space in an old factory and designed a loft complete with technology embedded in it, such as audio, video and projection capabilities, all controlled from my phone. The tools were opaque to all who entered but readily available to me at my subtle command. I liked not having to look at technology while having access to its benefits. Thing is, this took many hours of designing, planning, configuring and refining to get it just right. How long until this is possible for the average bear and how long until we learn to use it as simply and elegantly as it is designed to be? Will it make our lives more simple and more elegant or more cluttered with noise of the Internet’s latest zeitgeist?