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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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  • 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.
  • 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, 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.

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

    by miknix ( 1047580 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:25PM (#43020185) Homepage

    I must admit I recently started looking a lot into [] . I was super happy with Gnome 2, my productivity was never higher! Then, *bam* Gnome 3 up my throat, I actually tried to use it for a month but it was too painful - it was slow as hell, crashing all the time. Now I'm with KDE 4, it is not as fast as Gnome 2 but, feature-wise it is in a entirely different league. Still, I feel I don't use most of its features..

    The other day I needed a fancy way to visualize data in a gdb session - that's when I found ddd. The Data Display Debugger [] is written in [] . I was amazed how responsive and fast the GUI was. I found the GUI very well organized and not confusing at all to use. So I wonder, why are we really moving away from this? Why is everything turning into eye candy bloatware?

  • Re:no feedback (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @10:08PM (#43020853)

    Not only this, but the ST:TNG UIs had tactile feedback, just like mechanical buttons. They did it with miniaturized force fields or somesuch; it's in the TNG Technical Manual. Obviously, force fields aren't real (yet), just like warp drives and artificial gravity, but that's the official explanation which acknowledges that tactile feedback is desirable in a UI. This tech manual came out around 1991-1992, long before this whole touchscreen tactile-feedback-less craze got started.

  • 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.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal