Aug 9, 2008

The Internet of Surfaces? Microsoft's Pete Thompson discusses screens and surfaces of all sizes.


I came across this video of Microsoft Surface's general manager, Pete Thompson, on the GottaBeMobile website. According to Thompson, the people who worked with TouchWall discussed in the video, were also involved with Microsoft Surface.

Apparently, the Surface and Wall folks at Microsoft aren't sure of what they are doing with screens of all sizes.

(If you are interested in surface form factors, see my previous blog post, Emerging Interactive Technologies, Emerging Interactions, and Emerging Integrated Form Factors.)

There are many unanswered questions from my perspective.

Bill Gates portends that every surface will be a computer, a concept that is echoed in the video. If so, what are people doing to ensure that surface-supporting environments are universally designed?

Before Microsoft and other companies unleash "surface" technology to the masses, they must get a few things right.

Will they?

Will the researchers at Microsoft find out how various screens play out in classrooms, in the community settings, on-the job, and in-between?

For example, large interactive displays in urban and retail settings have the potential to provde people with a rich amount of information about what is around them. These displays serve little purpose if they are user-unfriendly, and no purpose at all if they are not accessible.

If developers and designers are not following basic user-centered design guidelines and usability standards now, how can we expect the nextgen systems of display surfaces to support universal usability? As our population ages, this will be more of a problem.

From what I can tell, there will be more opportunities for people to use their mobile devices to interact with larger screens and surfaces when they are out and about. For example, when I was at the airport recently, I noticed that there was a large display that offered cell-phone ringtone downloads. Microsoft was behind this display.

Interconnectivity and interoperability between devices and screens of all sizes is important to think about. If universal usability guidelines are not followed, our mobile devices will be difficult to use in the world of surfaces.

It isn't much of a leap to see the big picture. Just think about the problems we have with our remote controls and entertainment centers in our homes! We might have to carry all sorts of devices just to get from point A to point B. I'm not kidding. It will not be a pretty sight, especially if the privacy and security issues are not resolved as we move to a world that supports the internet of things.

Or shall I say, the internet of surfaces?
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