Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ubiquituous computing - the future

This post is only partly related to APEX - in more general terms.

Back in 1995 I was finishing my computer science degree at the University of Dortmund in Germany. For my Master's thesis I have spent a year at the Graphics Visualization and Usuability Lab (GVU) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta / USA.

There I was working on future computing environments (in the FCE group). Especially I worked on the Cyberguide and Classroom 2000 projects.

Also, I was working as a summer intern at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) in the Silicon Valley. I supported Eric Saund with his ZombieBoard project.

There I had the chance to personally meet Mark Weiser, who did the orginal research in ubiquitous computing environments. Especially his paper "The computer for the 21st century" has become very famous.

This has always been a fascinating topic for me, how computers can support us in our everday tasks in a more subtle way to let us continue to focus on the task at hand and not force us to comply with any sort of "user interface". This way the computer steps out of the way and lets us live in "our world". The tools have to become that intuitive that you wouldn't even notice them anymore.

Today I have come across some very interesting articles / presentations I would like to share with you.

The presentation by Adam Greenfield called "Everyware- The dawning age of ubiquitous computing" has really caught my attention. It is really well presented and entertaining. It also talks a lot about the too often neglected social implications of the technology we create and the responsibility that come with it.

One thing that did strike me during his presentation was our (as designers and developers of user interfaces, e.g. with APEX) assumptions about the users and how they were supposed to interact with the software (from our point of view).

I think I will do more usuability testing of my software in the future. We need to sit down with the key users of our systems more often and actually watch them using the software. We need to understand that the way they "actually" use the software and what is "obvious" for them might be very different from what we expect.

We need to sit down and try to use the software to actually solve their business problems they needed the software for in the first place. This way we can understand what we need to do in order to build a cleaner and more transparent user interface.

Also, I have found this very cool video how the iPhone haptic user interface will change the way we interact with computer dramatically and profoundly.

Even more, the new Songdo city in South Korea (video on youtube) and other engagements in this field demonstrate how our lives and the world we live in will change dramatically.


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