April 27, 2006

Magic As The Next User Interface Metaphor?

Since the mid-80s we've all become accustomed to the desktop metaphor as the main concept to describe how our computer screens look - we can place things in different places around our desktop, pile documents (or windows) on top of each other, and drag and drop things to move them from place to place.

This analogy is becoming increasingly stretched, as we need more powerful ways to visualize and manipulate data, and particularly as computing power bleeds out of the PC and into the world around us. With ubiquitous computing making our "intelligent devices" more specialised, the requirement to have their interface conform to a general-purpose workspace such as the desktop becomes less and less desirable.

Mike Kuniavsky has posted a very interesting article in which he experiments with off-the-shelf hardware and software to create a "magic wand" to control his Mac.

Combining an accelerometer-based mouse (so it doesn't need to be held on a surface to work) with mouse gesture software (the Firefox All-in-one gestures extension is where I'm most famililar with mouse gestures - it's a must for anyone using Firefox IMO) lets him control his computer by sweeping his arm around in the air whilst holding the mouse.

Now the object most similar (in common experience) to a mouse used like this would be the magic wand deployed by all good witches and wizards. Think how cool it will be if you could make your lights brighter by pointing your "wand" at them moving your wrist in a clockwise circular motion; or turning off the TV with a simple cross-like motion.

Combine the mouse functionality with your mobile phone, and suddenly everyone will be wandering round carrying a wand... Harry Potter eat your heart out! Of course, the death of the age of muggles won't be complete until we've worked out how to summon your wand from the other side of the room with a simple incantation...

Posted by Adrian at April 27, 2006 06:33 PM | TrackBack

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I think the element of magic is a big draw to many. Not to dismiss easily understood feedback but the magical moment between an action, a result and the understanding of the mapping between is the real sweet spot. Exploiting that feeling in essential.

Posted by: Sean at October 15, 2008 09:44 PM
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