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Minority Report's Legacy of Terrible Interfaces 305

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-give-me-a-mouse-and-keyboard dept.
jfruh writes "More than a decade ago, the special effects artists working the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report synthesized experimental thinking about GUIs to produce a floating interface that Tom Cruise manipulated with his hands. In 2013, surrounded by iOS and Android and Windows 8 devices, we use stripped down versions of this interface every day — and commercial artist Christian Brown thinks that's a bad thing. Such devices may look cinematic, he argues, but they completely ignore the kinds of haptic and textured feedback that have defined how we interact with devices for centuries." Speaking of Minority Report interfaces — a new armband sensor using a gesture-based control scheme is the latest gadget to invoke references to the movie.
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Minority Report's Legacy of Terrible Interfaces

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  • That and... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Press2ToContinue (2424598) * on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:05PM (#43019537)

    1) Gray text
    2) Animations
    3) Swiping
    4) Hiding interface controls
    5) No menus
    6) buttons anywhere all over the screen
    7) "sexy" interfaces

  • by RazorSharp (1418697) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:05PM (#43019539)

    I never understood why anyone thought that the computer in Minority Report was something worth pursuing. Futuristic computers in Hollywood movies have always been designed to look cinematic with no regard for how they would actually function. Having an intuitive interface isn't important for Hollywood directors, having something that is interesting for the audience and makes it obvious what's going on is.

    One common example of this is maps. 3D maps are all the rage in Hollywood movies, even when a simple address would suffice. But an address has no cinematic quality, a 3D map does.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:10PM (#43019583) Homepage

      What's wrong with looking cinematic? At least people would think I'm doing something when I'm trolling around Slashdot.

    • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:16PM (#43019633)

      Its a Unix system [youtube.com].

      So, where's my 3D file manager?

    • by Let's All Be Chinese (2654985) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:48PM (#43019919)

      You ever wondered why everything had to become GUI-shaped, why people genuinely thought that if only everyone would use GUIs then productivity would soar?

      The answer is simple: marketing. It looks shiny. It's got dancing rodents. This sells.

      Hollywood is made of shiny visuals. And, of course, designers love good looking form to the point that function can get skimped on. redmond has been doing their level best to serve up their version of MovieOS, down to the security problems.

      This is also why touchscreens got resurrected. Much sexier to have the display span the entire phone than only half and the rest be buttons. And can possibly be more intuitive than having something present with custom buttons for you to poke at, hm?

      That there are serious downsides to both GUIs (eg. very hard to script and automate compared to CLIs) and touchscreens ("gorilla arm", for one, lack of tactile feedback for another) pales into insignificance next to the sheer power of a shiny all-singing all-dancing presentation carefully serving up some smooth-looking lies.

      Case in point: The new "windows 8" interface and it getting pushed through no matter what, on phones AND desktops. They're giving a powerful message here, and the delivery simply trumps whatever you may want.

      This isn't (anti-)fanboiism, by the by: I could also trot out examples from, say, apple, but they're not nearly as clumsy and blunt about it. You don't get much choice either, but the delivery is so much better ("reality distortion field") that it causes symptoms of religious cults in its adherents, making it that much harder to illustrate with without causing instant flamewar.

      And part of it is indeed that emotions are involved, often enough deliberately so.

      • Agreed ... all of the above.

    • by thedonger (1317951) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:01PM (#43020031)

      I never understood why anyone thought that the computer in Minority Report was something worth pursuing.

      I think there has always been a desire to make fantasy into reality. It is only recently, however, that technology and science has made it possible to do it quickly.

    • by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:16PM (#43020551)

      I never understood why anyone thought that the computer in Minority Report was something worth pursuing.

      Right now I wish I had an interface like that. I am working with three screens on two different computers side by side and delving into 6 or 7 large documents and programs from disparate sources that I need to troll through in order to make sense of the partial information in each one. If I could have a single virtual desktop that was the size of my real desk and be able to push documents around like in Minority Report then I would be a happy camper. As it is I feel like I am peering through a keyhole at each document and continually having to rearrange the layering of each one depending on what I am focussing on for that one instant.

      Over course I wouldn't have the display vertical, I'd like a combination of angles from 30 degrees from the horizontal up to vertical.

    • by a_hanso (1891616) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:51PM (#43020759) Journal

      Yes. No real world crook would take the time to write a virus with a sexy female voice that says "Releasing deadly virus in... FIVE seconds...". Hollywood had it wrong all the way back from the time they decided that there is some Terrorist Bombers' Guild that has standardized the color coding of bomb wiring. If I were a bomber, I'd use purple wires for everything. Try disarming *that*.

  • by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:07PM (#43019553)
    computers in real life shouldn't work the way computers work in the movies. OK with me.
  • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:08PM (#43019561)

    Disclosure, 1994

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:16PM (#43019631)
    What about sick sticks? Those would be awesome! They're actually a stupidly bad and ineffective idea but it'd be funny.
  • NCIS (Score:5, Informative)

    by stevegee58 (1179505) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:18PM (#43019647) Journal
    They've used the same style GUI on NCIS and it still looks horrible to use.
  • no feedback (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:18PM (#43019653) Journal

    The biggest problem as I see it is that you can't feel the controls. Like all the interfaces in ST:TNG, there is too much dependence on having to look where your hands are. I think that's a distraction at a very basic level that we haven't fully noticed yet, let alone dealt with in any meaningful way.

    Think of your old-school cell phone. You could make a call, even text, without looking at it. (Or, I could. Your mileage may vary, I guess.) Can you do that with your glass-smooth smartphone now?

    And yeah, I know. "Siri, Call Police!" "Calling Portobello. When would you like reservations?"

    As I see it, the big difference between physical controls and colors and text on a touchscreen is that you can manipulate physical controls while looking elsewhere. There are times when that may be kinda important.

    • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:26PM (#43019717) Homepage Journal

      Exactly why I did NOT get a Samsung Galaxy S3 and went for a Samsung Galaxy S Relay instead. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the Phone key (though for some reason there is an e-mail key, a text message key, function-.= .com, and a voice mode key, all squeezed into the thumbboard). I also have yet to learn to touch type numbers on it.

      • by green1 (322787) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:53PM (#43019961)

        I gave up. I really didn't want a phone without a physical keyboard. but at the same time, I did want a modern phone, and the manufacturers refuse to sell anything where I am that qualifies as both. The only phones I can find with physical keyboards are a minimum of about 3 generations behind the current phones.
        So I compromised and gave up on a physical keyboard. Unfortunately I'm now "proof" to these idiot companies that people "want" phones without keyboards, when in fact I'm the opposite, there just wasn't an option there that fit.

    • by Radical Moderate (563286) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:34PM (#43019801)
      Before I got my iphone, I'd have agreed with you. I seriously thought of ditching my Android for an old school phone with a real number pad. But with contacts and a touch screen that actually work, I hardly ever key in a number now. Full disclaimer: I've never been much of a texter, so can't really compare the interfaces in that context.
    • Re:no feedback (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meta-monkey (321000) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:46PM (#43019895) Journal

      Like all the interfaces in ST:TNG, there is too much dependence on having to look where your hands are.

      There are some things TNG predicted well, but a few glaringly funny missteps in retrospect. My two favorite are:

      1) Piles of PADDs. There's a few scenes where someone is "doing a lot of reading" or "has a lot of reports to file" and so they have a bunch of PADDs strewn about their desk. Little did I know I needed a separate Kindle for each ebook I read.

      2) Lt. Commander Data types at consoles and reads screens. Apparently, Data is neither WiFi nor Bluetooth enabled.

      Obviously no one expects the writers to accurately predict the future of computer interfaces in 1988, but these always struck me as funny when I look back.

      • Re:no feedback (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:47PM (#43020341)

        There are some things TNG predicted well, but a few glaringly funny missteps in retrospect. My two favorite are:

        1) Piles of PADDs. There's a few scenes where someone is "doing a lot of reading" or "has a lot of reports to file" and so they have a bunch of PADDs strewn about their desk. Little did I know I needed a separate Kindle for each ebook I read.

        Lots of the time, they are cross-referencing things in parallel, which is inconvenient on a single screen of that size. With replicators, PADDs are presumably literally as cheap as dirt, rather than luxury gadgets, so there's no real reason not to have one for each document when you need to do that.

        • by a_hanso (1891616) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:59PM (#43020803) Journal

          This may still come to pass. I have a massive monitor at office but I've found that using hard copies of specs improves my productivity -- I think it's because it gives me a feel of "where" the piece of information I want to access is. I have to turn my head or move my hand to a separate, physical location in space rather than doing a virtual switch on screen.

          If e-readers were to become cheaper and thinner, I'd have a bunch of them on my desk too.

    • Re:no feedback (Score:5, Interesting)

      by green1 (322787) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:50PM (#43019941)

      The biggest problem as I see it is that you can't feel the controls. Like all the interfaces in ST:TNG, there is too much dependence on having to look where your hands are. I think that's a distraction at a very basic level that we haven't fully noticed yet, let alone dealt with in any meaningful way.

      Think of your old-school cell phone. You could make a call, even text, without looking at it. (Or, I could. Your mileage may vary, I guess.) Can you do that with your glass-smooth smartphone now?

      Unfortunately physical buttons are expensive, especially on a device that really needs a touch screen for some things anyway. I clung to my slide out qwerty keyboard for as long as I could, but had to eventually get a touchscreen because that's all the manufacturers want to make.
      The good news is that it's not a problem that people don't know about. And in fact several companies have come up with various technologies to try to make a touchscreen tactile (I saw one idea that was basically inflatable bubbles under the surface of the screen that could inflate buttons as needed, I believe it was blackberry who a while ago made their whole screen push in like a button when you clicked on it, and of course almost every phone these days has haptic feedback (which I usually turn off as soon as I can)). Unfortunately none of these have worked well yet, but give it some time and we may get there yet.

      I do find it interesting that you mention ST:TNG, from what I understand the theory behind their LCARS "touchscreens" was that it actually was tactile, just using a technology that we don't yet have (and that obviously wasn't so visible on screen) with the idea that you could actually have the best of both worlds. A shared console that each user could easily re-arrange for their particular preference, or current task, while still retaining the feel of real buttons. At the moment the idea sounds really appealing, but it's a ways off in implementation yet.

  • by Isca (550291) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:23PM (#43019693)
    After all, who doesn't like to have to do calisthenics before they try to do something complicated such as DRAG FILES FROM A FOLDER AND OPEN THEM!
  • "centuries"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@nOSPam.lynx.bc.ca> on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:24PM (#43019699) Journal
    What kinds of devices have we been interacting with for centuries? That's what I'd like to know.
  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:28PM (#43019733)

    ...between reality emulating film and reality converging on film. The former is something that should generally be avoided when it comes to cinematic user interfaces, given that most of them are designed for cinematic effect, rather than usability. On the flip side, there's nothing wrong with the latter taking place if it just so happens that better usability corresponds to something that's shown up in films (or books, or any other form of media) already. We see this sort of thing happen on a regular basis with sci-fi media inspiring ideas that have value in the real world.

    The touchscreens we've been seeing the last few years were in direct response to issues that existed with older-style smartphones, namely that the apps were cramped on a small screen, most of the buttons were useless for a good part of the time, and without relying on specialty buttons, we had to rely on multi-purposing some buttons for additional uses. By making the buttons virtual, the apps themselves become more useful since they can occupy the entire surface of the device, the buttons become more useful because they can visually change to become appropriate for the state in which the app currently resides, and far less irrelevant or extraneous interface shows up on-screen at any given time, thus putting the focus where it belongs.

    As the summary mentions (I can't be bothered to read the article, of course), the change to touchscreens did come with some drawbacks, particularly when it comes to haptic feedback, but most of those can be addressed with various advances in technology [gamespot.com] and engineering [venturebeat.com].

    So, yes, we have some catching up to do to achieve everything we had before, but in the meantime we've gained something more important: smartphones that live up to their name.

  • by Melibeus (94008) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:28PM (#43019735)
    I remember the local performing arts center getting new stage managers' consoles. The stupid thing was that the que buttons were on a touch screen. So their was no non-visual feedback as to wether it had been pressed or not. A stage manager has to keep their focus on the stage. They went back to the old push button system. This is just one example where the lack of kinaesthetic feedback makes touch screens a bad UI choice. There are many more examples. Wherever one needs to operate a control without looking directly at that control touch screens are a bad choice.
  • by GreggBz (777373) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:28PM (#43019737) Homepage
    First, one thing we all probably notice is that your arms are going to get so tired after waving them around so dramatically during a good work session.

    Second, what's always fascinated me, is that these large, exaggerated gesture and touch based interfaces always seem to reduce your big inputs into something more precise, where as a mouse / keyboard interface will magnify your already precise movements into something larger.

    It's a question of precision I guess. A fingertip can cover up to 30 pixels when you hit the screen with it.. A mouse can be made to hover over 1 or 2 pixels before you click it.
    • by green1 (322787) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:01PM (#43020025)

      But that is exactly the point. watching someone move a mouse around is boring, if you want it to be interesting in a movie you need to exaggerate the gestures. Little things don't show well on screen, so they get made big.
      For film this is good. The problem isn't that these are bad movie interfaces, they're actually very good for movies. The problem only comes when someone watches the movie and then decides they should cripple the rest of the world with the same interface because it looks neat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:30PM (#43019747)

    Hackers obviously had the best interface. Why look for a file in an alphabetical list when you can glide around virtual skyscrapers randomly searching for info?

    It's perfect.

  • Is it any surprise that Hollywood gets UI wrong in favor of "looking good" when we have:
    * Bad physics (don't even get me started on the sound explosions make in space)
    * Bad understanding of current technology (every hacking movie ever -- with the very notable exception of The Social Network)
    * Bad history (based on a true story!)
    Etc etc.

    Hollywood fundamentally wants to make something that "looks pretty" and to hell with practical applications -- because that pretty picture is ultimately what is being delivered to you. In other news, I'm guessing the food in movies doesn't taste as good as it looks either -- but I sympathize with that are set with the general public and those whose job it is to fulfill them.

  • by Ryanrule (1657199) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:33PM (#43019787)

    commercial artist...?

  • "Terrible?" (Score:5, Informative)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:40PM (#43019849) Journal

    Minority Report's interface was not "terrible." It was really good, and so are most interfaces seen in movies.

    Well, they're really good for doing what they're supposed to do.

    What's the purpose of an interface? To provide a means to make what you want to do understood, and to provide feedback on the results of your actions or requests, and both of these things should be clean and unambiguous.

    In a real-life interface, when you're trying to "ACCESS FILES" you move a tiny cursor with small hand gestures and then double click on a "Documents" folder that's next to a bunch of other folders, all labeled with small text fonts. Then you look past a bunch of unrelated files to find the one you might be looking for. Or type "ls" in a command line and a bunch of filenames scroll by. And if you need to enter a name and password, a small box appears for you, and when you get the password right, the box just disappears with no other information, or you get a small red line of text that says "wrong username or password."

    This is effective for IRL computer systems, as it makes it easy for the user to unambiguously communicate what they're trying to do, and the results are obvious. In a movie, this is terrible. The director has a three second cut to the screen where the hero is trying to ACCESS SECRET FILES before the rogue agent comes back into his office. And you can hear his footsteps coming down the hall! And a cut to the door handle turning! A cut to the hero! And a cut to the screen! And in those brief cuts, you need to unambiguously tell the audience what's going on with the computer. "ACCESS SECRET FILES: ENTER PASSWORD." "ACCESS DENIED." "ENTER PASSWORD." "ACCESS GRANTED!" "COPYING SECRET FILES 15%.30%." Oh, and bonus points if the hero's face is reflected in the screen, because then the audience can see not only that he's trying to ACCESS SECRET FILES but also his intense expression, to build tension in a scene that's basically about pressing buttons on a computer.

    So the interface in Minority Report was great. Cruise was doing something really boring: looking up files on a computer. Spielberg could have just plopped him down in front of Windows 2054 (it's a redress of Windows ME) and had him click on some icons, but instead we get to see exactly what he's doing with big, obvious gestures. "Looking at several videos! Picking these! Rejecting these! Zooming in on these! Marking that!" And all the while you got to see his face through the transparent glass screen. Cruise's actions are clear and unambiguous and his goal and the results are communicated well to the audience. That's a great "interface" between the director and the viewers.

    Just saying, you don't pay Tom Cruise $20 million and then spend 2 minutes of your movie showing a mouse clicking around a screen.

  • by dgharmon (2564621) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:40PM (#43019853) Homepage
    "In 2013, surrounded by iOS and Android and Windows 8 devices, we use stripped down versions of this interface every day"

    No we don't, iOS and the rest were never based on anything from Minority Report. The problem with a Minority Report type of floating interface is that you arms very quickly get fatigued. See an early 3D file system viewer ..

    FSN -- the IRIX 3D file system tool from Jurassic Park [siliconbunny.com]

    SGI Fusion [youtube.com]
  • by hey (83763) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:04PM (#43020051) Journal

    Notice how Tom Cruise has to list of a huge string of numbers at the start of that clip?
    How intuitive and handy.

  • Nobody instituted gesture interfaces because of Minority Report. Everyone malleable enough to do something like that because of a Sci-Fi movie had already seen Johnny Mnemonic.

  • by HairyNevus (992803) <hairynevus&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:02PM (#43020439)
    If Minority Report really is behind this wave of interfaces, then how long before I can get a Pip-Boy? Or, Leela's arm computer thingy.
  • by CODiNE (27417) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:24PM (#43020599) Homepage

    The one in the Island movie was kind of nice. It was a full table touch OS.

    Interesting things:
    It had this little pyramid placeholder that you could move around to shift focus and group items.

    You could twist and fling with it to rotate a window 180 degrees so someone sitting across from you at your desk can edit a document.

    Still accepted stylus input for drawings as it's better than touch for control.

    I liked that it didn't completely force one particular interface metaphor for everything, the tactile control objects were nice as well as directionality of windows.

  • by Swampash (1131503) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:33PM (#43020655)

    The key point of the parent article was made back in 2011, and a bit more clearly, by Bret Victor in his article "A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design".

    http://worrydream.com/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign/ [worrydream.com]

    It's a great piece.

  • by morgauxo (974071) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:46PM (#43020733)

    Great, Slashdot users are starting to realize it.
    Now how about a group of people that marketing drones actually give a shit about realize that the current trends in devices and their interfaces SUCKS!

  • by isdnip (49656) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:58PM (#43021387)

    Samsung's Alias 2 was a great phone. It had a twist-hinge in the middle that could be opened either like a clamshell phone (vertical, for talking) or horizontally as a text keyboard. And the buttons were e-ink, so they took different values depending on how you opened it. Since it was a clamshell, it couldn't butt-dial, and its keyboard was tactile.

    But it was not "smart". It used BREW, Qualcomm's dumb-phone software. The screen wasn't touch-enabled and was small for a smartphone. Still, for someone doing more phoning than surfing, it would be better. Too bad they discontinued the line rather than do an Android version.

    In the meantime I hang on to my old Sammy clamshell, since I use the phone for, uh, phoning and use my computers for email and the web. This way I use appropriate keyboards and no touch screen. Touch screen require good hand-eye coordination and as a fast touch-typist, I don't look at the keyboard, I feel the keys. Touch screens are just useless to me.

    And as others noted above, touch screens in cars should be outlawed as an imminent hazard.

If I'd known computer science was going to be like this, I'd never have given up being a rock 'n' roll star. -- G. Hirst

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