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I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this blog talking about multi-touch interfaces. Nearly three years ago that seemed like cutting-edge stuff, but not any more. Check this out:
I love the way Mistry develops his ideas using very low-tech prototypes: that perspex glove with the four mouse rollers on it is classic Heath Robinson. Some of the examples in the video are clearly mock-ups, but nonetheless I think you’ll agree that a system of this sort could completely change what we mean by the term ‘computing’. It’s conceptually miles ahead of anything else out there at the moment, and the types of opportunity it will offer can barely be imagined.
But is it practicable? What we’re talking about here is a walking around with a device hanging around your neck like a smartphone, but with a miniature projector and reflector added to it. Power—battery life—will be a big issue. You’ll have to wear coloured thimbles on your fingertips whenever you want to use it, and using colour recognition as well as gestural recognition means it will probably only work under certain lighting conditions (unless it has some kind of light-adaptive software built in to it). Widespread use is going to depend on a massive increase in wireless bandwidth and cloud dependence.
I’m sure that the practical issues are all solvable. In a related video they’re talking about it becoming available in 10 years time. I’d be surprised if it was that long, but equally it’s not going to be next year.
Ladies and gentlemen, Pranav Mistry…
[Thanks to Adam Shailer for bringing this video to my attention.]
We’ve all seen that bit in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is using that gestural computer interface, grabbing images, flipping them around, swiping them aside? Well, 6 years on and a very similar system is for real:
The main man behind the g-speak system seems to be one John Underkoffler, who was—surprise, surprise—one of the technical advisors on Minority Report. There’s lots more information, including a historical overview of g-speak, on the Oblong website.
Is this the future of computing? No, I don’t think so, not for us plebs. Gestural interfaces will become the dominant paradigm, but mainly in the form of touch screens. There will be a place for this type of spatial operating environment—as they call it—but I would imagine it will be limited to military/industrial applications. Oblong themselves say the system is suited to:
- analysis of large data sets;
- operation of three-dimensional interfaces;
- construction of efficient multi-user collaborative applications;
- integration of large screens and multiple computers into room- and building-scale work environments;
- development of large-scale applications that run interactively across enterprise networks.
I reckon that’s about right. The system only makes any kind of sense with the huge screen(s).
This is interesting:
Under development at the University of Washington. More info here.
I recently posted on the shortcomings of Apple’s MobileMe service. Things don’t seem to be getting any better: last night I logged in and was greeted with this message:
Logging in this morning throws up the same message. An outage of 12 hours?
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear…
[Update 13.30 GMT. I may have jumped the gun on this one. There certainly seems to be no widespread reports of major email downtime on MobileMe. Maybe I was just unlucky and caught two short ones. Even so, it’s not exactly confidence inspiring.]
Well, having wisely invested in an iPhone 3G, I signed up for MobileMe as well. As I already had 2 Macs at home—my ancient G4 Powerbook in the living room and my iMac in my office in the loft—some way of syncing these 3 devices together just seemed too good to pass up.
A couple of months in and things don’t look so good. There has been the well-documented climb-down over Apple’s misrepresentation of the service, the loss of emails and subscribers’ general unhappiness with the service (with Apple giving away another two months free usage in mid-August). So: is MobileMe any good or not?
The bad news: there’s just no avoiding the fact that, no, it isn’t very good. Firstly, it’s painfully slow. Secondly, the buttons don’t work properly: last night I looked at an email in one of my folders and when I tried to go back to my inbox all the navigation buttons were dead. And there’s the widely reported problem with the greyed out buttons when you open a new email: Apple do suggest a kludge for this but really they need to get it working properly in the first place. Thirdly, loading sets of images into the Gallery can be painful: they suggest you can’t load more than 1Gb at once—which is fair enough—but last night I left it loading only 23Mb and it still wasn’t finished by this morning! Truly pitiful.
[There we go, a perfect example. I was going to write something about not being able to create groups on the contacts page: better check I haven’t overlooked a big ‘Groups’ button methinks. Go to MobileMe (already open on the Mail page) and click Contacts. Wait about two minutes for them to appear!]
Other gripes: no, you definitely can’t create groups of contacts. It handles images attached to emails very poorly. And no matter what service you use, it’s always losing contact with the server. These types of message come up all the time:
Good points? It’s a great idea. It looks good (compared to Gmail for example, which is butt-ugly). And, so far, it’s cheap.
Am I going to carry on paying for it? I would really like to, simply because of the functionality it allows me. But the biggest problem with MobileMe is that it is really, really, flaky. Unacceptably flaky, because unfortunately services like this need to be rock solid (which is something Google do very well).
Heaven only what Apple think they’re doing with MobileMe. They need to really sort the whole thing out once and for all: as it stands it’s a bit of an embarrassment. From a business point of view there is the short-term loss of revenue, but, in the long term, it will have serious implications for Apple’s standing as a web service provider and it will go on to harm iPhone sales as well (insofar as the compelling USP of the iPhone is its function as a web platform).
One can only hope that the relative lack of news on this front is a sign that, behind the scenes, they’re working frantically on a major upgrade to the service.
Multi-touch interfaces have been one of the themes of this blog over the past 18 months or so. In fact, they’re becoming so commonplace it soon won’t be worth my mentioning them any more. However, before that day finally arrives, here’s a quick look at some recent developments.
Within the last couple of weeks Microsoft have shown their Touch Wall. Here’s Bill Gates driving it:
And here it is being demo’d by Microserf Ian Sands, with a good deal more technical detail included towards the end:
Well in theory it’s a great idea, right? (I’d love one to teach with, for example.) But you’d have to ask how viable a system this is at the moment, especially when Sands admits that you can’t even edit a Word document on it! It also looks slow, glitchy, and just plain clunky. Notice how the slides don’t sort properly when Bill Gates gestures them aside—sometimes one doesn’t go at all, and then two jump the next time—and note the problems Sands has in selecting the right mode in the toolbar. “The calibration is a little off,” he says. Yes, quite.
Well I know which one I’d buy….
Back in July last year—is it that long ago already?—I had a good look at the Microsoft Surface. Here it is, out there and doing a job in the real world:
Are those thick cables security tethers, or are they connecting the phones to the computer (i.e. the PC inside the Surface)?
This is an interesting idea:
I like this just because they’ve taken the everyday equation (bigger displays are always better) and turned it on its head. I’m not sure that any, or many, of the applications they show in the video are that useful—and the photo sorting thing really is becoming a bit of a cliché—but one could easily imagine this type of interfacing becoming useful with ‘swarms’ of mobile devices.