Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple's Tablet Signals End of Mouse, Keyboard

10/GUI from C. Miller on Vimeo.
Apple's Tablet Signals End of Mouse, Keyboard

.Print Text Size E-mail More

Carl Franzen


(Jan. 26) -- Will Apple's forthcoming device be "the most important thing" that CEO Steve Jobs has ever done?

In a huge media event Wednesday, the company is set to unveil a tablet computer called the "iPad," "iSlate" or something else entirely. But after months of prognostication by industry insiders, a consensus has already emerged about the future of computing: Kiss your keyboard and mouse goodbye; you won't be needing them where we're headed.

That's because the tablet is expected to herald a new era of the graphical user interface (or GUI, pronounced "gooey"). A GUI includes all the common tools and the techniques we use to navigate our digital environments: the desktop, the idea of clicking items with a pointer guided by a mouse, the basic conventions found in all operating systems.

Getty Images

Steve Jobs, Apple's chief, is unveiling his next big product on Wednesday.

Future GUIs will more closely resemble the interactivity seen in sci-fi movies than anything we've seen before. Here's a few of the big trends that Apple's tablet portends:

1. The Most Advanced Multi-Touch

Likelihood on Apple Tablet: Very High

Multi-touch technology -- which allows users to interact with a digital device using more than one finger -- has become ubiquitous on a number of digital devices lately. That's in no small part due to the smashing success of Apple's iPhone.

Apple's tablet promises a new alternative to pointing and clicking a mouse. "The tablet should offer any number of unique multi-touch experiences -- for example, three fingers down and rotate could mean 'open an application,' " one Apple engineer told The New York Times earlier this month.

Others writers seized on the same report, noting that the implications of this new system are enormous.

"It would seem that Apple not only thinks differently but is actively engaged in making that vision a reality rather than waiting on third-party developers. If this rumor is true, and that 'if' is huge, then the world of personal computing may be about to undergo a paradigm shift not seen since the GUI replaced the command line," explained Charles Jade at the Apple Blog.

But how will users hold a tablet in one hand and type with another, all without a physical keyboard? The Apple Blog also has an interesting hypothesis regarding that problem:

An altogether different keyboard interface purposefully designed for five-finger typing with one hand. Users could hold the device in one hand, and quickly type with all fingers of the other.

Another particularly fascinating possibility for an even more elaborate multi-touch system has been articulated by Robert Clayton Miller. His version involves a massive, multi-touch track pad that can register all 10 fingers at once.

10/GUI from C. Miller on Vimeo.

2. 3-D Desktop

Tablet Likelihood: Medium

Computers and mobile devices offer basically flat, two-dimensional surfaces. Sure, we can layer windows on top one another, but the desktop environment as a whole hasn't changed drastically for most consumers since the 1980s, when Apple unveiled its Lisa.

But Otaku Software offers a "virtual desktop manager" that allows Windows users to navigate six desktops through a rotating virtual cube. Another iteration, by Bump Technologies, creates a virtual room with three-dimensional walls that can be manipulated by a multi-touch screen.

Earlier this month, The Baltimore Sun's BaltTech blog uncovered a patent filing suggesting that Apple is developing technology operated solely through touch gestures. As the MacRumors blog put it:

Apple has long held an interest in bringing three-dimensional display elements to its devices using both perspective-based implementations in two dimensions and more advanced techniques for generating lifelike three-dimensional images.

Which brings us to what may be the most revolutionary trend.

3.) Touching Beyond the Screen

Tablet Likelihood: Not Yet

Apple's patent for a "3-D hyper-reality" display describes a system by which a computer can automatically detect properties of a user's physical environment -- such as the reflectivity of surfaces in a room -- and adjust virtual 3-D objects on the screen accordingly.

The ultimate goal: seamlessly merging the digital environment with the physical world. Of course, Apple is hardly the only one looking into better ways of accomplishing this feat.

Last November, an MIT grad student named Pranav Mistry unveiled technology using mini video projectors and motion sensors to create ordinary, low-tech physical objects like a user's fingers with the properties of everything from a digital camera to a cell phone.

"You can carry your digital world with you wherever you go," Mistry told a rapt audience at a TED conference. "You can start using any wall, any surface as an interface. "

In December, Engadget reported on a "new bi-directional display" showcased by Mistry's colleagues at MIT's Media Lab. The display integrates multi-touch functionality with optical sensors that track the users' gestures through the air, allowing them to physically rotate 3-D objects displayed in front of a monitor with their fingers.

And at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, a company called Light Blue Optics was praised on the Web for its innovative "Light Touch," a portable projector the size of paperback book that uses a laser to display a holographic, virtual touch-screen and keyboard on any flat surface.

Light Touch: Holographic Laser Projection is Here Today from DVICE on Vimeo.

Although the Apple tablet is not expected to cross this bridge quite yet, it is only a matter of time before it or another consumer digital device does. For now, you can place your own bets on Apple's big announcement and keep track of the predictions of others, using the following scorecard.
Light Touch: Holographic Laser Projection is Here Today from DVICE on Vimeo.

No comments:

Post a Comment