I just read an article drawing attention to another sector of the Natural User Interface (NUI) world: the Minority Report-esque "spatial operating environment," a concept that doesn't require a glove (at least for control purposes). In it, the writer begs the question, will capacitive touch screens go the way of the dodo bird and be ousted by this new application?
Fundamentally, I don't think touch screens are going to go away any time soon. Even today, there are still traditional user interfaces in existence. Touch screens aren't like laser discs, Beta Max players, or even the recently deceased VCR, all products where a brand new disruptive technology came in and completely trumped the old in all ways. This form of spatial gesture recognition is a very cool feature, but on the whole it is not a one size fits all application. Specifically, it doesn't seem like a good fit for handset devices. Using ultrasonic sonar seems like an innovative way to start implementing the technology, but it would seem to me to make more sense to leverage the newly introduced front-facing onboard cameras seen in smartphones; however, you'll run into processing and power issues that a handset device just can't afford to spend its precious power budget on. Then again, that's the user's choice.
Tablets or the newly anointed "slates" would seem like cool end equipments with which to incorporate this spatial operating environment. You have a larger screen and a little more margin to work with.
I'm not saying touch screens are omnipotent and will never be replaced. New applications are growing in quantity every year. For instance, who could have predicted haptics would be such a hot application? With staple implementations like ERMs, which once had strong foot holds, being pushed out by newer technologies like LRAs and Piezo actuators, what new technology could come out? TI supports all three haptic drivers and offers discrete one and two chip solutions with our DRV haptic product line, as well as impending haptic solutions that feature even greater and more amazing levels of integration, but who is to say where the future will take us?
I once had the honor of leading a group of 6th graders through a simulated experience of "what it's like to be an engineer." Rather than showing them the "documentary" Office Space, I opted instead to focus my energy on answering one simple question, "What will the living room of 30 years from now look like, have in it, etc.?" I saw a lot of similar themes and vastly different approaches to the same answer, which is, in reality, engineering at its core. So, if you are in the market of predicting the future, let me enlighten you with some of the innovative highlights those kids delivered:
If you are trend hungry for user interface predictions, the best bet I've seen comes from a man I alluded to in the beginning, John Underkoffler, one of the scientific advisors for Minority Report. In the TED talk he gave a year ago, he gives a current display of "older" interactive technology, as well as a live demo of the full-blown Minority Report-style interaction, gloves and all. One thing I'll note is that as ridiculously cool as it appears to be, it still doesn't appear to be quite as intuitive as other gesturing, so there probably is some learning curve associated with it (just like there is for typing, lest we forget those classes growing up). And what about writing a simple email? Text-to-speech? I'm curious to see the answer to those issues. Regardless, what stands out to me is his prediction that within five years computers will be shipping with this technology integrated into them. With hot consumer items like the Xbox Kinect blowing up obstacles to adopters, I can see that trend becoming a reality, but will consumers take to it?
But back to the main article. If spatial operating environments do take off, will we see a shift from haptics in the device to special gloves for control and the disappearance of touch screens? What happens when the gloves come off? Will we be able to incorporate such a technology into smaller phones? Will smaller phones even exist, due to the "trend" of larger phones? The future of technology in general is always volatile, and new things come but don't necessarily stay (as my Electronics Circuits Professor said, "time is relative, 'forever' could be three days for a capacitor"). A leading indicator is just that: an indicator, no one ever knows for sure where technology will go, and if they claim they do and you believe them then perhaps I can interest you in some magic beans?
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