User interfaces as big things in automated technologies have been with us since the teletype replaced the telegraph. I believe that the GUI (the user interface's "Last Big Thing") gained acceptance with consumers before it was generally adopted by business, and I think that is notable because it seems to indicate that the consumer, not business, has been driving the evolution of human computer interaction since the introduction of the personal computer. This is particularly evident when you examine game technology.
When I reflect on the user interface breakthroughs of the past, it is clear to me that we are overdue for the next real advance in user interfaces. With this in mind, a significant breakthrough in user interfaces could be The Next “Really” Big Thing. As to the question of whether it will it be a consumer movement or a business movement, I think that recent history would favor the consumer.
So, what will this new user interface look like? What kind of new things will it do for us? How long must we wait for it? All good questions for which I have a few answers. I do have some ideas regarding some of the things that I think we will see:
- Greater input/output flexibility
I/O capabilities that will work in most situations by taking advantage of more human modalities. Capabilities like speech, eye movement, emotional queues, and even brain waves may come into play along with the integrated involvement of senses like touch, in addition to hearing and sight.
- Situation sensitivity
A form of context sensitivity that is both physical and logical will make it possible for user interfaces to dynamically adapt to who you are, what you are currently doing and maybe even why you are doing it.
This will allow the most likely actions to be the most readily accessible and, where there is only one alternative, an action will be executed automatically (focus on higher priority items first; this type of precedence takes a primary feed from situation sensitivity). In other words, it will anticipate your next move and may even make it for you.
- I/O Adaptability
From digital (machine/machine) to human (man/machine), one interface dynamically adaptable to any user, whether human or machine.
- True application interface independence
I think that the relationship between the end-user’s interface and the application's interface will become truly independent as the intelligence for user interaction moves into interface components and gadgets while application interaction will be with these components and gadgets will be accomplished through a set of universal middle processes and standards.
- End-user device internetworking
This will allow a user’s personal collection of compute and interface devices to dynamically interconnect and collaborate, yielding a “best of what’s currently configurable and available to the user” interface.
- Seamless and converged network integration
Not only for the internetworking of end-user devices but for our unencumbered participation in the global network that surrounds us.
When I review the lessons of the past, I only find more questions. What was the killer app for the GUI? Was it an app at all? What about WYSIWYG? It brought a whole new level of usability and capability to Digital Publication, Word Processing, Digital Drawing Programs, Network Management, Architecture, etc. What about the laser printer? Whatever it was, it allowed us to join together many new ideas that would serve to make the computer more usable, more friendly and more accessible.
As I survey today’s computer technology landscape, with all of its options and loosely integrated devices, it appears that the simplicity that the GUI once gave us has, by its very proliferation, become a bastion of complexity. I look for the new user interface to once again, address the issue of friendlier and more usable computing power by simplifying the complex in new and unexpected ways.