Friday, June 18, 2010

The controller-free world – Part I

I believe the concept started with touch-screens. As a replacement of the traditional mouse kind of pointer. So in your smart-phones you could start using your fingers to achieve the same results as what was earlier achieved by moving various keys on the keypad to select the right application.

The same concept was carried forward, albeit in a different way, into the world of console games, with the Wii providing strap-on controllers to give a realistic feel to your tennis and boxing games on the console. There was something tied to your hands, but yes, it was different from the traditional game controllers with 10+ keys and your thumbs getting sore after delivering huge blows in Dead or Alive.

In the world of touch, there was more evolution, with the latest entrant being something called “multi-touch”. The first idea in that line was “Surface” which featured a Minority Report kind of interface, as users could literally play with all that they could see on the screen. You could simulate an entire blackjack game with those flicks of hands that you would usually see as a trademark of a dealer in Vegas.

And then the iPhone entered the world, and it completely did away with the concept of any pointing device on phones, giving full usability only via fingers, no stylus and no pointers.

They took the multi-touch concept further ahead straight into iPad which actually looks just like a bigger phone without the phone call facility, though of course you can see pictures and movies and books on an almost laptop-sized screen, and again, have no place for any kind of pointers or pointing-devices.

Meanwhile, back in the gaming world came another major leap as Kinect was announced, promising the gamers no strap-ons, no keys, and no need to exercise your thumb muscles as you pound away your opponents. Instead, you exercise the same muscles which you would otherwise do if you were in a real boxing match. The concept being that of “gestures”, almost analogous to the multi-touch concept, except that there is obviously no touch involved.

In between we of course had various other attempts at “non-intrusive” technologies such as voice dialing or voice commands, but till date they haven’t met with much success due to severe differences in accents and pronunciations across the world.

Though I believe that in that combination (voice + gestures) is where the future lies, in terms of dissolving any remaining differences between the human-machine interfaces. The rationale is very simple actually – If what we are trying is to simulate as near a human kind of experience then the obvious choice is voice+gestures, because that is exactly how humans interact with each other. We talk and we simultaneously move our hands and head etc. (the whole science of body language) as we try to “communicate” and it is this final code of communication that all the technological powers in this world are trying to crack.

Let’s wait, and watch the death of the controllers…

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