Radar Theme: New User Interfaces

[This is part of a series of posts that briefly describe the trends that we’re currently tracking here at O’Reilly]

The iPhone is called the JesusPhone for a reason. Its ease of use is a revelation, and the multitouch display is part of that. Since the iPhone’s release, multitouch displays have shown up in tradeshows and on CNN. The hardware is becoming cheaper and the software more ubiquitous, opening people’s minds to UI possibilities beyond mice and menus.

Watch list: iPhone, Jeff Han, John Underkoffler.

  • davidm

    I would say the interface is interesting, but not particularly a revelation. Sometimes it would be faster or better to have hard buttons or traditional controls. A scroll wheel would be much better for zooming, for example.

    It is like the one button mouse for the Mac, which everyone has to work around. Apple slavishly tries to pretend there is a pure way, but concessions must be made. In this regard, their approach is more gimmicky than anything. Woo, look, I crush you! I crush you! ObKITH.

    I can’t wait to see how they add the glaringly and hilariously missing cut and paste, we will be in Mac OS territory, with some obscure combination of finger presses and secret voodoo.

  • @ davidm

    In fact, the iPhone interface is a revelation. As a device the iPhone is not as feature-complete as it could be, but multi-touch represents the first real advance in interface in 25 years.

    The short version is it’s metaphorically and actually taking the on-screen experience a step closer to how we interact with stuff in meatspace.

    See my full justification and explanation here:

    Cheers, Noah

  • davidm

    I can’t agree with your statement that it is the first real advance in interface in 25 years. Right off the bat, the typical Web page offers a “what you see is what you can do” interface that is much more of a revelation (if that’s even the right word to use in this context) compared to WIMP. Even if it does hark back to mainframes screens.

    The pinching, sliding, zooming, the selector roll things are neat, and often smart, but it’s mostly just stuff zooming around that’s more fun ’cause they finally adopted the touch screen. And they tossed out the entire metaphor of drag and drop in the iPhone, pretty much disallowing relating things to each other (they never did implement it uniformly in Mac OS, despite all the NeXT OO OS stuff people always talk about).

    For all this talk about metaphors, we’re not dealing with real world things, we’re dealing with computer interfaces and abstractions. So you’re always going to dig yourself into a hole if you commit too strongly to metaphors, rather than reality.

    What Apple does is one part making things fairly consistent and pursuing an idea of “pure” (with glaring problems like cut and paste), and one part neat whizzy effects, which is a magical formula for making people believe there is something actually different, in real world functionality, about their products, than what other products offer. Mean while you have to transcribe text from a web page into your address book using a pen and paper.

  • davidm — Apple has shipped a multi-button mouse since 2005 so it may be time to retire that old saw. :)

    The iPhone isn’t perfect and multitouch isn’t the solution to all our problems, but it’s certainly the biggest story in user interfaces to come out of the past few years.

  • davidm

    Kevin Arthur, the one button mouse still perfectly illustrates my point that real world concessions are required to fantasy design ideals.

    The past few years, maybe, but mostly a benefit in that it is drawing people’s attention more to UI and good design. I don’t think there is anything especially magical about the functionality of the iPhone. And it’s a niche, I’d like to see the whole spectrum of mainstream UI, including video game consoles, included. But most “analysis” is incredibly Apple centric. Manifest destiny predictions about Apple by people who see only the Apple universe. They have managed to create quite a bit of hype, though.

  • davidm

    And what I mean by analysis is most design writing is done by hardcore Apple people, based on what they have disdainfully read or remember about other universes (most of the information sought for the sole purpose of finding fault), or it’s done by breathless mainstream press, who, caught up in the hype (it’s their living), write about one narrow aspect that in deeper analysis is hardly important. I always do my best to acknowledge Apple’s strengths, but Apple’s admirers chose a different, more constrained way to experience reality.