Over the past couple of days I’ve had a few conversations about how people interact with computers and more importantly the apps running on them. The conversations started off about how Nintendo Wii’s (and to a lesser extent the PS3 with its sixaxis controllers) are changing how people play games. It got us thinking about what this might mean in the wider context of IT. Peoples expectations of how they can and should be interacting with software are changing. A kid who grows up today using a wii and an iPod touch is going to be a tad disappointed by a plain old keyboard and mouse. This idea of ‘digital natives’ is something I talk about a lot in terms of the software and services we deliver as an IS organisation, but I’ve never really thought about it in on terms of the real basics – how you use a computer.
There are clearly things happening in this area, Surface for example looks very cool, and it seems like Windows Mobile 7 is going to step ahead of Apple and bring a whole new level of motion based interaction to mobile phones and PDA’s. Tablet PC’s introduced pen/touch style input to the mainstream and have been around for a while. In Vista I think are a genuine alternative to a regular laptop – imho it’s about time for someone to revived the old ‘slate’ style tablets like my trusty old TC1100 (with Vista on it’s still by far the best tablet I’ve used in terms of size and form factor that I’ve used). But how do these new interfaces reach the humble desktop PC?
At home, and at work for that matter, I’ll happily use a laptop or tablet. It works well for me and my job, but if you spend your day in AutoCAD or some random GIS app the chances are you’ll be using a desktop or workstation. There are pretty obvious benefits to using touch style interfaces in those apps, but at the moment other than traditional graphics tablets and some bespoke and expensive tablet screens, I’m not sure how it could be achieved in the mainstream.
The obvious answer would be ‘touch’ enabled monitors. A touch version of the Dell Crystal monitor Steve Clayton posted about the other day would look very ‘minority report’! How well would a traditional monitor work though? There’s probably an argument to say that it would be (quite literally) painful to use a screen that way over a full day.
I don’t use the tablet features on my laptop nearly as much as I should, but when I do its on a desk or on my lap. My workmate Trevor on the other hand only ever uses the pen on his tablet and found that having it flat on a desk became uncomfortable after a while. He’s now using an small artists easel to hold the tablet at an angle like a traditional drawing board. Having tried it myself I have to say that works very well indeed. Perhaps the age of the drawing board isn’t quite over yet. We’ll just have less pens than before!
There are plenty of stories out there at the moment about Vista’s poor business sales, whether they are true or not who knows. I do know I’m having trouble selling a migration to the business here. A Multitouch interface coupled with technology like SeaDragon and decent ISV support from people like AutoDesk could well be a ‘killer app’ for whatever release brings it to Windows. It looks like most of the software technology is there, I know lenovo have multitouch drivers available for my T61, but where are the devices that would bring it all together? I guess that’s where Apple have a key advantage, they control the hardware platform their OS runs on so can easily bring the whole end-to-end package together without having to rely on partners to deliver solutions to customers.