Research Spotlight: LumiWatch and SmartMat

Two cool research projects I wanted to mention on here before I forget and that I’ll just lump in here together:

The LumiWatch is a new projector smartwatch prototype from Carnegie Mellon University. Unsurprisingly Chris Harisson is involved, who’s been working on similar concepts (cf. Skin Buttons, SkinTrack, OmniTouch) for quite some time now. In some sense the LumiWatch seems to be bringing a lot of these earlier concepts together.

Then there’s Microsoft’s Project Zanzibar smart mat, a new hardware device enabling tangible interaction through a combination of capacitive sensing capabilities for touch interaction and NFC for object detection and recognition. I’m reminded of Microsoft’s tremendous output in the fields of earlier multitouch and tangible interaction research within its Surface research group, before they appropriated the Surface name for their lineup of consumer products.

Advertisements

Recommended Reading: Reconsidering the Hardware Kindle Interface

I just read and enjoyed this:

I’ve been using Kindles on and off ever since they launched. Our relationship has been contentious but I’ve always been seduced or re-seduced by their potential. At their best, they are beautiful devices. At their worst, infuriating. They are always so close to being better than they are.

I’m a big fan of my Kindle Paperwhite, but I would like it a lot better if it had hardware buttons for page turning. There are a number of interesting observations regarding the UI design implications of the Kindle as a single purpose device for reading (in comparison to multi-purpose smartphones or tablets) in here as well:

When is a generic hardware bucket great? When the objects placed into it are unpredictable. And more so when the purpose of the objects is unpredictable. Hardware buttons inextricably tie you to a specific interaction model. So for the iPhone to be a flexible container into which anything can be poured it makes most sense to have (almost) no hardware controls.

Read “Reconsidering the Hardware Kindle Interface”

Recommended Reading: The Greatest Computer Network You’ve Never Heard Of

I just read and enjoyed this:

Nearly 60 years ago, in the modest college towns of Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, an educational computer system, built with federal funding acquired amid the space race, took its first formative steps toward existence.

The PLATO System probably isn’t quite as well known as Sketchpad, NLS or the Xerox Alto, but I consider it one of the great inventions in the history of HCI.

Read “The Greatest Computer Network You’ve Never Heard Of”

Saving lives, one second at a time

This is an interesting example of contextualizing small gains in efficiency happening at massive scale and thus reaping huge results:

[If each iOS device] would be unlocked using a 4-digit PIN, the time to bring them into use would be about 2 seconds. Expanding to a 6-digit PIN would probably increase that to perhaps 2.5 seconds (accounting also for failures due to input errors.)

[…]

It turns out that, based on the installed base numbers, moving to the more secure 6-digit code would add 2.8 billion hours to the total time to unlock the world’s iPhones and iPads. That’s 321,000 years of waiting added for every year of use.

Fortunately we got Touch ID to replace PIN entry and the time to unlock the iPhone/iPad has decreased to perhaps 1 second, saving 5.6 billion hours of unlock time vs. 4-digit PIN.

Reminds me of an interview with Larry Tesler in Dan Saffer’s Designing for Interaction, where he said the following:

If a million users each waste a minute a day dealing with complexity that an engineer could have eliminated in a week by making the software a little more complex, you are penalizing the user to make the engineer’s job easier.

I guess it’s no coincidence that Larry Tesler was an early Apple employee, back when Steve Jobs argued that decreasing Macintosh boot times would save lives.

Recommended Reading: Want to really understand how bitcoin works? Here’s a gentle primer

This is the best, easily comprehensible explanation of how bitcoin and blockchain technology work that I’ve come across:

The soaring price of bitcoin—the virtual currency is now worth more than $250 billion—has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. But the real significance of bitcoin isn’t just its rising value. It’s the technological breakthrough that allowed the network to exist in the first place.

Read “Want to really understand how bitcoin works? Here’s a gentle primer”

On a less technical, but much funnier note, John Oliver had some solid investment advice on Last Week Tonight for those wondering if they should put their life-savings in cryptocurrencies:

The Hawaii Missile Alert Incident

A few weeks ago, there was a false state-wide missile alert broadcast in Hawaii. You’ve probably heard about it, because it was all over the news and the event even has its own Wikipedia page by now.

While the incident was certainly unpleasant for Hawaiians, and particularly for the poor man responsible for the broadcast, it is a stroke of luck for me. I’m always on the look-out for poor user interface design leading to catastrophe, and this event is about as good an example as it gets. In the days following the incident there was ample discussion of the user interface for sending out the broadcast (which turned out to be surprisingly difficult to reliably pin down) and how to prevent such mistakes in the future, e.g. from The Verge, Ars Technica, Jason Kottke and Nick Heer, all of which are worth a read.

As I said, I’m always looking for examples of poor user interface design, which is surprisingly difficult and seems to have become more difficult over time. By and large, the importance and necessity of good usability and user interface design seems to be so pervasive and commonly accepted that nowadays any application with a sizeable audience is well designed. While that’s obviously a very good thing for most people, it makes it quite difficult for me to find examples illustrating bad design and its consequences.