Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gestures will force the mouse into retirement

Gesture interface will become more common ...

"At almost 30 years old, is the computer mouse ready for retirement? Certainly, a growing band of human-computer interaction (HCI) specialists believe so. The crude language of "point and click", they argue, seriously limits the "conversations" we have with our computers.

Among them is Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini, a veteran HCI expert who joined Apple in 1978 as its 66th employee and founded the company's Human Interface Group during his 14 years there. These days, after spells at Sun Microsystems and online healthcare company WebMD, Mr Tognazzini is a respected consultant, author and speaker with usability company, the Nielsen Norman Group.

"In many ways, our continued reliance on the computer mouse reduces us to little more than cavemen, running around pointing at symbols and 'grunting' with each click," he says. "A revolution is long overdue, because we need more sophisticated tools that will allow us to increase our vocabulary way beyond that caveman grunt." Plus, the link between the computer mouse and cases of repetitive strain injury (RSI) are hardly an argument in its favour, he adds.

Luckily, he says, those "more sophisticated" tools are right in front of our faces and we already know how to use them. They are, in fact, our fingers.

"Look at the facts: we've typically got 10 of these 'tools'; they move in a multitude of different ways; and gestural language, which came long before verbal language, is an established and intuitive form of self-expression. Even primates can be trained to express needs and intentions using their fingers," he points out.

What has historically been lacking, is the ability of computers to read and understand our gestures - but that is changing very quickly. In fact, real-time video interpretation and inertial sensors are already being used to recognise facial expression and physical movement in a number of consumer technology devices, says Steven Prentice, an analyst with IT market research company Gartner.

He traces the roots of this migration to two recent events: the launch of the Nintendo Wii games console in 2006 and of the Apple iPhone in 2007. Through clever use of accelerometers and optical sensor technology, the Wii Remote (or "wiimote") is already enabling millions of people to practise their golf swings, play rock guitar or swordfight with imaginary enemies. And since the iPhone was launched, strong sales and high user satisfaction have reinforced just how powerful and intuitive a multitouch interface can be."    (Continued via, Jessica Twentyman)    [Usability Resources]


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