In truth, I never liked the distance of hand-to-eye co-ordination that ‘mice’ as an input device forced me to adopt for design work. That’s why I got excited years ago when I first heard of an interactive drawing board that you could literally sit over with your tee-square, like designers and architects used to, yet look down onto a screen. It was supposed to be a sort of a cross between a Wacom tablet and a Quantel Paintbox that responded to digital rotring pens/magic markers/airbrush/whatever, affording the flexibility of modern design software with the ergonomics of a board mounted on a pivotable stand. I thought it was around the corner and here I am still waiting.
Even now, one of the key problems I have with interactive TV is the whole ‘click red’ concept, which does not give me pixel-based control of my TV screen from across the room in a way I have become accustomed to on my PC. It just seems so obvious to replace my remote with a laser pointer.
Well I have patiently waited for technology and aesthetics to combine in my world of increasing interactivity, and here are three such devices which just bring me hope…
The I/O Brush lets you ‘pick up and paint’ with everyday objects as ink. It looks like a regular physical paintbrush but has a small video camera with lights and touch sensors embedded inside. Whether you are pointing your brush at a watermelon or a dog, this clever device allows you to paint with the texture you have just captured as your brush-stroke. Not only limited to colour and texture, movements are what make this interesting. Point the brush for a few seconds at a person’s eye blinking and when you paint, you replicate that same movie clip as you’re moving the brush around.
The ReacTable is an electro-acoustic interactive musical interface. It is based on a round, translucent table, generally used in a darkened room, and appears as a backlit display. Multiple performers can share control over the instrument by moving physical objects called tangibles around on the tabletop. By interfacing with the visual display via the tangibles or fingertips, a virtual modular synthesizer is operated, creating music or sound effects. The Icelandic singer Björk introduced the ReacTable to the mainstream for the first time at the Coachella Festival in California this Summer.
Take a multi-sensory touch screen computer, and put it inside a coffee table. That’s the concept of the first commercially available Surface computer from Microsoft, turning an ordinary tabletop into an interactive surface. It is able to recognise physical objects from a paintbrush to a mobile phone and allow hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music, maps and all sorts of digital content through natural gestures. Even small groups of friends or family can use Surface at the same time without the need for a mouse to keyboard. Microsoft is initially targeting the roll-out of Surface to POS-based systems and virtual concierge in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues but its only time before homes across the land are demanding them. In fact Hewlett-Packard has already demonstrated a wall-size machine that looks like something out of the Minority Report!
No, I did not forget the Apple iPhone – but as I can not text with it as I have ‘man hands’, and as the keyboard does not rotate with the phone – let alone how the heck is it supposed to work in the car – and then I have to choose between wi-fi or a phone… for all its beauty and desirability, I think I am going to hold out till the next version!
And as for advertising potential of such interactive devices, please check out my vision of the Web at 30.