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Windows Touch and User Experience

One key new feature of the recently released Win 7 beta that should excite UX designers and developers is the support for building touch and multi-touch based interfaces.  Some time back, I had posted a blog entry about my first hand experience of using the Microsoft Surface computing device. These new technologies open huge opportunities for designers to transcend existing user experience limitations and build immersive, life-like interactive applications.

Relating back to the ALIVE design approach I had proposed some time back, touch and multi-touch capabilities are huge because they remove artificial interface elements like mouse and keyboards and allow more natural interactions.  They also make true collaboration possible by letting multiple people simultaneously manipulate stuff on screen. I think we can place this development in the same league as some other computing related advances like miniaturization, connectivity and vastly improved processing speeds – all of them having profound effect on  how, where and what  of computers and our daily lives.

I think two factors play a decisive role in helping make computers an integral part of our day-to-day life: content and interface.

The ‘content’ is the data or media that we consume or interact with using the computers.  Fancy interactivity and high tech multi-modal interfaces may create initial excitement, but would not take us very far if the content is limited, irrelevant, boring and restricted.  Touch based products like Surface computers are currently ‘content poor’ in that sense; and will depend on Microsoft partners to provide applications, games and widgets

In this Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Cloud computing driven world we are entering, access to quality content will progressively become cheaper and easier. With  ‘Mash-ups’ as a way of consuming information becoming popular, users are getting plenty of flexibility for juxtaposition, layering and blending of information - thereby opening unlimited opportunities for switching the context and perspective.  It is like a kaleidoscope!!

This is where the capability of the interface - to intuitively navigate through information, drill up or down as needed, and zooms in or out with just flick of fingers - will come key. The richness, and directness, of touch based interactivity will be great match for the rich, multi-faceted, multi-layered data we may be interacting with in the not-so-distant future.

Imagine configuring dream cars..., playing with your buddies.., creating art master piece…, manipulating  business data…or just plain adjusting the volume of your media player …all this and more without using mouse, keyboard, joy sticks and the likes.

As we know, keyboards inherited their form factor from the typewriter. Mouse and joystick had little historic stereotypes to rely on – but they had to evolve and grow as the ‘sidekicks’ of the omnipresent keyboard.  With all of these out of the way, the “computer and monitor on a table and the user on a chair’ paradigm is going to be seriously challenged.

Touch sensitive monitors may end up being more horizontal to facilitate natural walk-up-and-use mode.  And kiosks too will have opportunities to evolve from the typical wizard driven user interfaces to allow more open ended interactions when the tasks need them to. In the weeks to come, we will look at how, where and what will change as touch computing takes roots.


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