you're going to need gloves…


So, the Surface. A nice interactive multi-touch device from Microsoft.

I’ve been looking at the videos for this and it does look good, but a video of the Surface Paint application on ZDNet caught my eye.

Watch it and come, go on, I’ll wait.

So spot the difference between that and the shot on the left, taken from Minority Report from 2002?

Tom Cruise is wearing gloves. And they’re not just any old gloves, they’re little black gloves with lights on the tips. Why?

Go back and watch the video of Surface again. notice the bit where Mark Bulger says “we can both paint at the same time”. He then goes on to show how you can use a paint brush “just like in the real world”.

Look again – did you see it yet? When the interviewer joins in the paint color used by Mark changes. two of you can apint, but you can only use one colour. This limitation is because the Surface has no way of knowing which finger is which. My four year old likes to finger paint – she likes to dip each finger in a different color paint and make rainbows in one stroke. You can’t do that with Surface.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the Surface is great, and I’m trying to get some time to play with one here in the UK, but it still has a missing piece in how real it will feel.

Microsoft in on the multi-touch act…

“Surface Computing has Arrived” Microsoft Surface !!!

In a combination of many of the different touch techniques I’ve talked about before Microsoft have produced a beautiful marketing piece for multi-touch surfaces.

The marketing goodness cleverly uses the gestures of the multi-touch UI as the animated tramnsitions in the Flash promo material very, very smart.

As well as multi-touch they also show the use of physical tokens like Reactable and talk about “phones practical introduce themselves”; a social network of devices just as Bill Buxton told us was coming.

Update: Nad’s found a nice launch video


Multi-Touch comes closer…

A comment from the venerable Stefano Baraldi over on my post about Bill Buxton’s keynote prompted me to take a quick look around. Catching up with Stefano’s blog, onTheTableTop, I see that tabulaTouch, blogged here previously, is coming to market shortly as Sensitive Table.

Stefano also provides a link to Natural Interaction who have more stunning videos of just how engaging this stuff can be.

a thing of beauty from Sony

Flexible, full-color OLED

This screen looks fantastic. If you don’t see what the fuss is about, think what the implications could be for the form factor of the Nintendo DS, or the iPod. As they get bigger, which they inevitably will, imagine what that will mean for displays at home and at work. Bill Buxton is saying that large multi-touch displays will be cheaper to install than whiteboards. I have to agree.

Do you keep

a draft of some posts that you write and think “nah, if I publish that I’ll get in trouble”?

I do. They might be rants or they might criticise something that’s really not up for criticism, socially I mean.

Anyway, I’m bound to get a visit from the TSA, or refused entry into the US or someat for this…

Firstly: this is a great skit on the absurdity of airline security.


nah, better leave that in the drafts folder.


You're so five minutes ago aka Bill Buxton Part One


Bill Buxton is on stage right now talking about how narrow the web is – The World Narrow Web.

Bill is an ebulient presenter, making sure the audience know exactly who they’re supposed to be listening to. Dressed in a black suit and black shirt he looks slightly Italian; if he weren’t so scruffy, a point he makes himself several times.

Talking about a visit to Pixar he points out that, looking at the equipment being used, he can’t tell the difference between the animation department and the accounts department. I don’t think he meant that even accounts is cool at Pixar.

And that’s the narrowness. A lack of diversity, not of content, but of interaction. That we have machines that interact with all the social skills of a fruit fly.

Nicholas Negroponte, according to Bill, made lots of money touring the world asking people to imagine what things would be like when bandwidth was everywhere and effectively free. Bill’s “Imagine” is displays. He asks us to imagine what the world will be like when you can buy pixels, 100dpi for about $10 a square foot; a time when it will be cheaper to put an enormous panel of pixels on your wall than a whiteboard.

Which brings him on nicely to his next point: Why aren’t displays bi-directional. Why aren’t they touch screens. He explains that he doesn’t mean the kind of one finger touch screens that we see on kiosks, but the kind of rich, multi-touch displays that folks like Jeff Han are working on and that I have blogged about here before.

Bill and I agree that these large multi-touch displays will change the way we use computers in fundamental ways. He points out that if you;re writing software and not planning for this change to take place within five years you need to re-think.

Bill spent time at Xerox Parc ?? during which time he saw plenty of multi-touch work. That’s why he objects to “a certain CEO” presenting multi-touch devices as if “his company” had invented them. I thought Microsoft had got past its not able to say Apple phase.

One of the devices he saw was a tablet for creating animation. He dates this at 1968, papers published in 1969. I’ve blogged about innovation back then before. The ability he describes is being able to draw a line, and have that as the object to animate, then draw a second line as the path to animate it along. Imagine the obscure animation path feature of PowerPoint to give you an idea of what he means. But what this tablet could do was track the time it took you to draw the path and use that as the animation timing. The software treated time as a first class citizen.

He’s very keen to see interaction technology like multi-touch hit the mainstream. As am I.

The point about time is interesting enough for him to develop further. He wanders of on a ramble about the history of white explorers in North America and Canada, Talking about Vancouver and ?? ?? (who relied on Sakagwea, although she fails to get a mention). His point comes out towards the end; two of the explorers missed each other by just 3 weeks, a little way north of (what is now called) Vancouver. That changed the course of history, but is so difficult to represent without writing a whole pile of custom animation of the data. Because time and space are not first class citizens of our systems it is not easy top represent these everyday things.

From this point we have a short diversion into using your watch to control very large display; those that are too big to touch practically. That leads us to the notion of a heterogenous social network of devices, requiring societal values that the devices adhere to in order that devices who have never previously met can co-operate.

“A society of appliances. Heterogenous social network: of computers and people”

The logical extension of that is, of course, a heterogenous network of both people and machines. In no small way that is what the Semantic Web is about, of course.

“why are web applications different to any other application once we have infinite bandwidth and sotrage – our job is to put the WWW out of business”

So, once we have infinte bandwidth and infinte storage in the cloud, Bill goes on, what is the difference between web applications and other applications. Our CTO, Justin, has talked about this at length and describes it as the trend towards “Internet Inside” applications. Bill wants to see as many different “browsers” as there are types of paper. The classic debate between generalised and specialised user interfaces; although Bill doesn’t suggest the general browser is wrong, just that we are wrong for continuing down the line that Mosaic set out without questioning or deviating.

Apparently we see the problem of the generic browser most in search. According to Bill search is not a task or an application…

“Search is a bloody interruption! I’m in the middle of doing something and the thing isn’t there where I need it!”

Bill has presented, so far, in what most would describe as a “ranty” style. Much of what he talks about, mutli-touch UI, specialised browsers he talks about in a frustrated “why has it taken so long” tone. This is entertaining, if not entirely uplifting. He takes the opportunity to say at this point that his official presentation is over and that what follows is, very simply, a rant.

I’ll blog about the rant next…

Busy Days…

Tim Berners-Lee

Spent 24 hours (door-to-door) traveling over to Banff for the WWW2007 conference, and we’ve now been here for a couple of days. The standard of conversation (all the sessions bar the keynote have been very interactive) has been very good.

The thrust that I’m seeing and hearing here is one of Linked and Open Data. Getting as much data as people can up on the semantic web using Cool URIs, RDF, GRRDL and other bits of the puzzle – the message from Tim and close friends is “do it now”.

This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, 2007 has been heralded as the make or break year.

I haven’t been blogging much as Paul’s doing an excellent job over at Nodalities. But there are some interesting points coming out consistently.

First, and interesting, is the importance of the graph. The idea that the web is successful because of its chaos and freedom. This needs to be the same with Linked and Open Data. Trees are distinctly passé, as are tables and, frankly, anything that’s not simply a graph.

This is a trend happening in many places, not just on the web. In OO programming languages, for example, there is a move to favour composition over inheritance – a graph over a tree.

There’s also a big thrust around provenance – if you have a lot of data that you’re mixing together you want to know where the bits came from, so you can make decisions on their authoritiveness. In his keynote Tim suggested that triple stores should really have four columns – subject, predicate, object, provenance.

Today was my turn to voice some stuff, along with

We were talking about various aspects of Open Data. Steve gave a great animated show of GPS data gathered for London by couriers, Peter talked about the need for openness in scientific publishing and Jamie talked brilliantly about the reasons to open data you might otherwise think is core to your business. I was talking about the importance of making your licensing clear.

The slides are online here, Peter presented direct from his blog, and Paul’s talking about the panel over on Nodalities.

Allegedly Danny recorded the session, I’ll update here if/when it appears.

Design Horror

Update: check out Jeff’s full reading list.

Over at Coding Horror Jeff Atwood has been cajoling developers to learn more about visual design and to learn a graphics tool. He’s focussed on visual design in these two posts and I agree with him that these are critical skills for anyone doing anything with a visible UI.

But it strikes me that he might want to push further; looking at what value there would be for developers in knowing more about other human-factors design disciplines. At the risk of pre-empting him I’d like to see everyone read these few books:

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, by Alan Cooper The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper.

This is a great read. It’s a rant by Interaction Design guru Alan Cooper on why developers shouldn’t be trusted to do any kind of design work and why the design has to be cast in stone before developers are allowed to touch it.

Knowing how bad many developers are basic interaction design he makes a good case; I would prefer to see us get better at it than allow Alan to cut us out of the process altogther. This book should give you the motivation to learn more about your users.

The design of everyday things by Don Norman.

This classic text points out all those niggling little annoyances that we face every day as we pull at a door that should be pushed, or dribble tea on the table from a tea pot that doesn’t pour properly.

Theses usability issues dog our day-to-day lives yet could be solved by paying just a little more attention to what you’re designing.

Failing those two, which give you fantastic background and insight into this area, if you only read one book, and you need it to be short, Spolsky would have you read his…

User interface design for programmers by Joel Spolsky.

We read this a few months back as one of our book club books (we have a geek book club at work). It’s short, very easy to read and gives you concrete dos and don’ts for making life easier for your users.

It includes wonderful reviews of some of the best and worse of Microsoft’s interfaces and explains stuff in Joel’s usual no-nonsense style. You should totally read this one.

I hope Jeff points us to some more as well.