The first time I read about “getting the computer out of the way” was in a review about the first iPad. The iPad wasn’t very impressive by itself. It took the stuff you already did on your laptop and transferred it to a smaller machine.
Something the computer industry had actually been doing for quite a while. According to Moore’s law, computers double their amount of transistors every 2 years. You can either choose to make them faster or smaller.
But there was something else as well. Something not so easy to put your finger on.
Most people didn’t care much for the machine. My wife declared me a fool for wanting one. I’d made some money with a game I made for the iPhone and I “invested” it in an iPad. A couple of weeks later she was using it more often than me 🙂
It took a while before the tablet started to catch on but when it did… Well, we all know.
It’s a household machine now. Not (yet) as indispensable as a laundry machine or a dishwasher but it’s getting closer!
So, what’s different?
Even with the sleekest, most well designed laptops there’s still this distance between action and reaction. If you look at people like me, who can’t type blindly or if you look at people who are learning to use a mouse or a trackpad for the first time. Look at their eyes, they’re looking at what they’re doing to the keyoard/mouse/trackpad and then up to the screen to make sure their action sparked the right response.
This “naive use” emphasises the delayed feedback and lays bare the unnatural steps the brain makes to reach full circle when we’re using a computer. In nature, or any real life physical situation, feedback to a physical action is instant. Kick a wall or a tree. You don’t have to look up to check if you hit it.
“Getting the computer out of the way” made computing a more natural part of our surrounding. But it only works when feedback is instant. Yes, a tablet is small and doesn’t have a keyboard. But if it doesn’t respond instantly to my actions it’s still the same thing as the clunky beige machine sitting under my desk. Just a smaller version without a keyboard.
But if it responds instantly, moves exactly as I swipe, tap and pinch, then the computer is finally gone.
Then it’s like we’re living in the future, like we caught up with the science fiction department of Hollywood.
And when I see my kids using it, I mean when I really look at them playing with it, it’s like the future is right there with me in the room. Like this five and seven year old are touching another world through a magic mirror.
Yes, yes, I exaggerate.
But I’m taking into account that we’re living in exponential times. That VR is reaching the platau of accepted trends. That gesture interfaces are becoming more common. By the time they’re 10 and 12, the computer will not just be 32 times faster or smaller than it is now, it will be more out of the way than ever before. I believe that will improve human computer interaction exponentially.