Future Visions: Microsoft

Written on November 02 2011 at 00:20

(Part of a short series of commentary on the future visions that technology companies produce.)

So future will be communicated entirely via infographics.

… But even with that out of the way, what I really don’t get about this is the random gesturing. This isn’t innovation. There’s no structure to what they’re proposing, except, essentially, “you will be able to point and swoosh at things and they will just magically do what you intended”. We are just starting to explore what the grammar of direct interface interaction really might be, and this throws all that away in favour of (quite literal) handwaving.

It’s most obviously evident in this sequence:

That grasp and swish… I mean… what the fuck? How does the computer know that the grasp is for that chart data, and not one of the other ten infograph widgets on his computer? Does he have a different graspy-move for each one?

To liken this video to Minority Report is to actually do Minority Report a disservice, since those filmmakers actually did put a tiny bit of thought into what each gesture might mean, and how they might consistently map onto an interface. And at least that was clearly entertainment, and not something to be taken at all seriously.

Swipe upwards on your slate-pad-thing and it naturally goes to the next thing that you’re interested in. How does it know whether that’s going to be your hotel booking or your kid’s drawing? It just does. Flip over your transparent bellhop screen and of course it shows you the guest preferences. What else would you possibly want? Nothing, of course. Exactly what you want to appear is always right there, only the simplest of gestures away.

These interactions are so simple and low fidelity – pinch, push, point, flip, swoosh, often in the air in front of your display, not even contacting with a specific part of the interface – and yet so lacking in any grammar, target or context, that it’s plainly impossible that they could be automatically interpreted in such a sophisticated way.

There’s only one rational conclusion: the gadgets in Microsoft’s future are psychic.

And to me, that isn’t exciting. It’s lazy fantasy. It doesn’t show forward thinking; it’s a regurgitation of the latest contemporary interface paradigm (touch and gestures) made “futuristic” by abandoning any obligation to reflect reality. Even this video from Microsoft is more grounded.

Back to the series.