How we interact with computers has been pretty constant over the years. The standard keyboard, based on century-old typewriter tech, has been our primary way of communication. The mouse added another element of interaction with the digital world around us. After generations of the same user interface, the way we communicate with our machines, and through them each other, is making huge leaps forward.
The Magic of Multi-touch
While Apple didn’t invent multi-touch, it was its use in the iPhone that made it the incredible success it has become. Originally, Apple wanted to make full-sized tablets (like the iPad). Ten years ago, the ability to make the screens large enough efficiently didn’t exist, so they made a smaller device, a phone.
Touch made the devices more intimate, more personal. No longer was interaction with technology an act of reaching out. Interface became an act of drawing in, pulling something close to you. That closeness changed the entire way we think about technology and its place in our lives. It shows how important the interface, how we interact with our devices, really is.
Voice Command Grows Up
For a long time, voice recognition was something of a joke. Every office had one trailblazing executive who’d try to write a letter by talking to their PC. Those experiences would end with bizarre typos, lots of yelling, and throwing the microphone or headset.
Voice control has now become a mature and reliable way to use devices. Mainstream products like Amazon Echo and Google Home, have brought voice control to kitchens and bedrooms. Personal assistants by Google, Microsoft and Apple, have made Star Trek into reality. Just talk to your personal assistant as you’re getting ready in the morning. It’ll check your calendar, report the weather and traffic, and play your radio station.
Eye Control Looks To The Future
But voice is only the beginning. A recent build of Microsoft’s Windows 10 includes a beta of their new eye control interface. Microsoft says that Eye Control “makes Windows 10 more accessible by empowering people with disabilities to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience using only their eyes.”
The ability of eye control to allow people with disabilities greater access to technology is greatly empowering. Giving people more independence and helping those without use of their hands communicate and interact better has tremendous benefits.
You can read more about Microsoft’s eye control technology and how it originated on their blog “From Hack to Product, Microsoft Empowers People with Eye Control for Windows 10”.
The Power of Brain Waves
If voice is happening now, and eye control is starting to benefit people in special cases, what’s next? The ultimate goal is to control devices with brain waves. Imagine not having to touch anything. You just think about what you would like your machines to do, and it happens.
For more than a decade, researchers have been working on ways to allow brainwaves to control computers. These generally involve implanting a wireless device into a person’s skull, which then transmits the brain waves via radio to the device being controlled.
Most of these tests have been done with paralyzed people who agree to participate in highly-controlled studies. The process has involved surgery, sophisticated equipment and lots of trained staff to manage. As the technology advances, it will become easier for people to use, the reliability will improve and the cost will decrease.
It’s probably three or four decades before brain waves will become a practical way of controlling your phone. But there will be countless amazing innovations between now and then.
New User Interface, New Opportunities
These new interfaces open up amazing new paths for device makers to innovate and experiment. The Apple Watch has an innovative interface, but is considered difficult to use on the small screen. The latest version that Apple just announced is using Siri to promote more voice control.
Imagine if Google re-released its Google Glass product and you could communicate with it using advanced voice and eye control? What about people who struggle with small on-screen keyboards? The more they can use their voice, the greater the modern online world opens up for them.
Different Needs For Everyone
The more different ways people communicate with the devices we love, the more possibilities will arise. Devices will come in diverse sizes, and become more integrated into our lives. They will provide greater flexibility, and allow people to use them in more creative ways. While it will take time for the technologies to mature, these advances will drive innovations in the post-phone world.