Fact: Today is the first public showing of “Sphere,” Microsoft’s newest multi-touch innovation: “After months of rumors, Microsoft researchers are taking the wraps off a prototype that uses an internal projection and vision system to bring a spherical computer display to life. People can touch the surface with multiple fingers and hands to manipulate photos, play games, spin a virtual globe, or watch 360-degree videos.”
Analysis: The video tells the story, particularly when you keep in mind that Sphere (and its earlier cousin Surface) represent a new multi-touch, multi-interface platform for human use of computing power. A year ago Surface was still just emerging from the research lab, and now a year later it’s been introduced into AT&T retail stores and is on its way to many other commercial and public environments. Sphere will be used in similarly unpredictable ways, adopted by third-party developers as an innovative canvas on which they can project cool new uses.
ZDNet’s analyst Mary Jo Foley makes a great point (“Microsoft mashes up multiple natural-user-interface inputs“) that instead of merely focusing on multi-touch interfaces like the tablet or mobile device, “Microsoft’s view of what the user interface of the future will look like is more complex than that. Instead of allowing users to interact only with touch or only with speech, Microsoft is working on interfaces that will combine multiple natural-input techniques.”
When I set up a behind-the-scenes visit by a government friend to Microsoft Research, I am almost always asked to include a peek at our work in “Human Computer Interaction.” Some cool things are lined up right behind Sphere, like the gesture-based interaction in TouchLight, or our “see-through mobile device” LucidTouch using the magic of pseudo-transparency.
Apple: Innovator or Follower?
Speaking of touch, I’ve been an avid tablet user for several years – I’ve written entire blogposts in recognized handwriting on my current Toshiba Tecra tablet – so it’s nice to see that Apple is rumored to finally be on the verge of following in line with a tablet.
And I love the touch interface on the Windows Mobile 6 Samsung i760 I bought last year – big screen, great zooming browser, 3G speed from Verizon – so again it’s nice to see Apple follow suit with the latest model iPhone. You’d think Apple invented touch, invented 3G, invented an online app store – but I’ve been buying and downloading apps from the Handango store and others on my mobile all along!
Following on touch, following on tablets, following on platforms… I don’t think I go as far some of Apple’s new critics (like WIRED magazine, “Has Apple bitten off more than it can chew?“). If and when they ever do come out with a tablet, I’ll give it a whirl, I still like Apple. And I still have warm memories of the old Newton, one of Apple’s bigger failures but a plucky little device — even Doonesbury had a love-hate thing going :-)
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