Maybe it’s age, but I am getting increasingly attracted to the notion of renovation as opposed to innovation. Renovation is simply innovation adapted to mature markets. Mostly we think of it as a tame undertaking, like painting a back bedroom, but it doesn’t have to be. Indeed, the renovation I am thinking of could shake things up quite a bit.
We need a new UI. God bless the GUI—it has changed my life more than any other technology—but we are both suffering from the same deficit: a deterioration in our multi-tasking capabilities. Young people and young systems want to run many threads at once. Definitely be on the net, but watch TV at the same time, keep your eye on the IM list, check your email, oh, and do your homework. No problem.
Except that the UI on our PCs is not constructed to optimize this mental landscape. It is too single-state oriented. It reminds me of, well, me. These days I like doing things in single-threaded fashion. I think of it as becoming more Zen. My wife and children, on the other hand, think of it as, “Don’t talk to Dad when he is driving.” Be that as it may, I am certainly not the target demographic for the next PC.
The current UI is still tied indirectly to the PC’s original root metaphor, a typewriter. It needs to transition to another—the stock trader’s workstation on Wall Street. It needs to recast itself as a media machine, with many concurrent feeds that enable traders to scan for information, detect trends, and transact, all very rapidly. Switching between states, foregrounding one without losing the context of the others in background, is the technical requirement. Picture-within-picture on a TV is a crude example. I think we can do much better.
In the new UI there should be designated ad space. That’s how most everything will get paid for in the end, so rather than have billboards all over our highways, let’s apply zoning principles and contain them to a certain section of real estate. The same principle applies to other recurrent processes—an email space, an IM space, a video feed, and the like. And then there’s the issue of getting around. The mouse is getting old too. We need to supplement it with key stroke conventions that speed our ability to do context switching.
In short, we need to recognize that the role of the user has shifted from passive consumer to active director, someone continually choosing from among multiple feeds to construct the desired experience, and reconstruct the UI to serve that new end.