Advancements in technology always have two large hurdles they must bypass: users and user interfaces. Unfortunately for customer service and IT workers, the human element must always be there to buy the product, thus ruining forever an unappreciated work of art. Thus, knowing that when the device is bought the owner will do something to mess it up, such as weld it to the ceiling, modern designers are toiling away to make sure that there are as few points of confusion as possible.
In the mythic days of the twentieth century, this was done through trying to improve the product, using such superstitious ideas as better construction, better user manuals, or increasing speed and efficiency. Yet ask anyone who has survived the horrors if the IT department, and you will be overwhelmed with stories of water filled keyboards, a mouse plugged into a microwave, and the infamous cup holder. (Ask your parents, kids.) Fortunately in this enlightened age, wise men and woman have discovered that there is a simple solution to the tools used to interact with our computers. Namely, getting rid of them.
Like most technological advancements, this did not move in the same direction, or even at the same speed. Look to the War of Currents between Tesla and Edison to see how even a simple thing (electric power) can get muddled when multiple groups have a slap fest over it. Thankfully, this technological trend has merely gone into some strange places.
Apple is the most famous of the touch screen creators, relishing in the lack of mouse or keyboard, instead working on the novel idea of poking the screen until the user cannot see through the thumbprints. With a user interface so simple a baby can use it (seriously, YouTube baby and ipad, it’s adorably creepy) Apple products are now famous for simplicity of use and absolute lack of flexibility. (Don’t Google ‘jailbreak’ on an Apple product. It will get angry.)
Microsoft, on the other hand, decided to go a different direction, after making their own similar products of course, this is Microsoft. While the Xbox Kinect has not seen the large market awareness that Apple products have, it should be lauded for being one of the first to use no touch system at all. The user would simply wave their hands and move their bodies to interact with the game. This was usually followed by moving the Kinect into the trash, since as the first of its type it had more problems than a lava powered counting machine. The inability to recognize the user half the time was a bit of a flaw, as well as needing an acre or so to work in.
With such a checkered past to dodge, it’s a wonder that a new competitor has entered the scene. Leap Motion does for the computer what the Kinect did for games, except with the tiny difference that this only requires hand motions, and thus might actually work. Labeled at two hundred times the sensitivity of the Kinect, Leap Motion will allow the user to interact fully with all the programs on the computer, allowing both a hassle free tool and the simple joy of flipping off a user error and actually having the computer respond.
Leap Motion will come out later this year, leading the computing public one step closer to the dream of instantly creating results from thoughts with as few steps along the way. Time will tell whether this will be the pinnacle of user interaction, or whether someone will come up with a brain-computer interface that won’t involve complex surgery. Either way, take a moment out of your daily routine to contemplate the fact that your toys and gadgets are now better than anything science fiction writers could dream about fifty years ago, and imagine what they will be like fifty years from now.