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GUI Technology

Minority Report's Legacy of Terrible Interfaces 305

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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  • 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.
  • by shugah ( 881805 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:30PM (#43019755)
    Oh yeah, and Keanu Reaves (Johnny Mnemonic) did it way before Tom Cruise (Minority Report).
  • "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.

  • Re:That and... (Score:5, Informative)

    by cjb658 ( 1235986 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @07:49PM (#43019925) Journal

    I think that's to make it easier to translate the software.

  • Re:That and... (Score:4, Informative)

    by green1 ( 322787 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:51PM (#43020365)

    Or we could save the money on that product which is bound to be a huge cost sink and just use existing matte technologies....

    In fact such a technology exists on almost all modern TVs. they have a "store mode" and a "home mode" the difference is the store mode runs at max brightness at all times so as to wash out the glare. Often times the "home mode" isn't even capable of getting to the same brightness because they would never get energy star certification if it did. (have you ever wondered why electronics ask you when you first set them up if you are a store or not?)

  • Re:That and... (Score:5, Informative)

    by pthisis ( 27352 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:07PM (#43020475) Homepage Journal

    Betamax was better. VHS was cheaper.

    At the outset, Beta had slightly higher video resolution than VHS. VHS had 2-hour tapes rather than Beta's 1-hour tapes.

    How do you say which was "better", objectively? The ability to record a movie while you're out of the house (impossible with a 1-hour Betamax tape) is a huge deal. Not having to turn on the lights and switch tapes halfway through a horror movie (and ruin the mood) isn't nothing. Having the video store's inventory take up half the room is a big deal.

    By the time Beta II speed finally allowed 2-hour tapes, it was competing with VHS HQ. At that point the video quality difference (which was always pretty small to begin with) between VHS and Beta was negligible and depended more on the quality of the player and tape than the format. Meanwhile VHS had added 4- and 6-hour modes.

    And by 1984, Betamax VCRs were selling for about half the price of VHS players and still couldn't get any traction.

  • 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". []

    It's a great piece.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury