Please, Touch my Junk

I watched Steve Ballmer's keynote address at CES last night via live stream. I say keynote, but it was more like a tag-team infomercial, but whatever... that is what CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) is really all about.

Back in the day, CES was where TVs, audio equipment, radar detectors, electronic toys, video games and such were shown in January after Comdex (the Computer Dealers Exposition) had taken place in November. Both were humongous shows, both were held in Las Vegas and both attracted upwards of 200,000 attendees. I regularly attended Comdex from 1984 until its demise in 2004. Now, CES has become the premier stage for new product introductions.

Back to the subject at hand...

Those that have read my blogs or may have tripped over some of my 'guest' posts on other's blogs know that I am passionate about the fusion of new technology with our pedestrian computer needs. I have long advocated for interfacing touch screen technology with portable handheld units and then joining them with computers or display units to increase the usability. The iPad was an exciting product and from what I have heard this week, 2011 promises to be a watershed year for my sort of equipment.

But, as I was thinking about the demonstration last night, and how the AvatarKinect showed realistic real-time animation, how the Kinect interface allowed gestures and voice to control a multimedia experience and how the Surface table is now a 4 inch thick wall-hangable multi-touch computer screen, I really started imagining how all of these technologies could help the aforementioned pedestrian computer experience. Surprisingly, the answer I came with was not much.

When you are sitting down in front of your keyboard to do work or anything except games, I just cannot imagine doing anything beyond using a mouse. In fact, if one could just grab a mouse and do everything from that one interface device, I think the majority of humans would be quite content. Even reaching for the keyboard throws me off my stride if I am busy navigating the web. It would be much easier if we could do everything with the mouse.

I think about my use of the iPad or the iPhone. I barely tolerate using the 'keyboard' on these devices. Sure, if I am on an airplane and I want to type something on the iPad, I will do it, but you won't catch me typing my first novel on an iPad keyboard unless it is my only option. So, if that is the case, why would I want to flail about with my arms and use my voice to control a computer that is optimally controlled by a hand, a wrist and two fingers.

Could this be because in the beginning, the only Human Interface Device (HID) beyond the keyboard was the mouse? Maybe it is my upbringing and what I am used to. (Consider this: If it wasn't already universal, who would ever think of controlling a modern car with their feet, even though it seems perfectly natural to all of us?)

I would never desire to reach up to my monitor and use gestures and pinches to control the display. Maybe there is a use for a Kinect-style interface to make presentations, but that is a very narrow use case.

What I do think would be awesome and not hard to learn to use is really to find a way to enhance and extend mouse movements. If they could make either a touch surface or a touch sensor about the size of a mousepad that could accept finger movements (much like the trackpad on a laptop) and filter out any palm touches, that could be an awesome user interface. They pretty much have the single touch interface worked out on laptops. Add in multi-touch and also the ability to use a pen or a finger cap to get better granularity and I think you would have a revolutionary interface.

Oops... I just reached over to my touch surface to move my pointer and it wasn't there. Wow, mind over matter. While writing this blog, I had already convinced myself that it would work. I can't wait to try one as soon as it is invented.


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