Skip to Content

CES: The Future of Interfaces

Say goodbye the one-size-fits-all approach to interacting with computers.
January 6, 2011

The mouse and keyboard have been how nearly everyone has interacted with computers since Apple and Microsoft brought them to the mainstream in the mid 1980s. There have been periodic attempts to replace these devices, mainly on the grounds that because they are so old, there must be something better by now.

But as the speakers on a panel on the future of the human-computer interface at the Consumer Electronics Show pointed out, the mouse and keyboard haven’t changed much because how people use computers haven’t changed much. We still typically use computers with a relatively large screen on some kind of tabletop. The panelists were drawn from organizations such as Microsoft’s mobile division, HP, and Sony’s Playstation group.

However, now that mobile computing is firmly established, moving people away from the desktop, and new applications are driving new interfaces: smartphones with touch-screens, voice-controlled automotive entertainment systems, and motion-based game controllers. The struggle for interface designers is to establish some kind of common grammar to all these systems, so that people can move seamlessly from device to device without having to learn how to operate each one individually. This is as much as marketing challenge as as technical one: however intuitive it might feel today, people had to be taught that making pinching motions on a screen equaled zooming in and out.

Looking towards the future, it’s likely that application designers will have to start taking into account contextual shifts between different interfaces on the same device: for example, a navigation application on a smartphone could be designed for a touch-based interface, but if a user starts driving a car, the application should be able to switch over to voice-based input and output, possibly tapping into the car’s built-in hands-free phone system. Beyond that? Maybe mind control, the panel suggested, tapping electrical impulses to control the computers around us, although they admitted this is still a long way from mainstream adoption.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.