I was talking to Tim, the editor of PC Pro last night about Computex 2010, and that while the show had lacked a killer product, there had been a real sense that the massive companies which have dominated computing for the past thirty years – Intel, Microsoft, etc – are suddenly looking very vulnerable.
Tim mentioned that a while back, a senior member of Sony’s Vaio design team had bet him that keyboards would be dead within ten years. At the time, it seemed a sure thing – QWERTY reigned supreme. Now though, he’s not so sure.
I think both Tim and the man from Sony can argue that they’re on course to win the bet. In offices and homes around the world, keyboards are still the default way people enter information into computers, and it's hard to imagine entering an essay into a computer using any of the alternatives.
However, keyboards are not the only way we interact with computer devices. Touchscreen interfaces are becoming more common, and judging from the number of tablets we saw at Computab Computex this year, they’re going to explode in popularity very soon.
The free availability of a tablet OS (Android) and the choice of cheap, non-x86 CPUs from ARM has driven the cost of non-QWERTY hardware through the floor, and the iPhone and iPad have proven the market’s interest in quick, internet focussed devices.
Still, it's not like we're going to start using the iPad instead of a real computer.... right? Well, maybe not the iPad, but you need to consider how basic current touchscreen devices are. With the iPhone, a user can really only perform basic object manipulation – pressing your finger on an app really isn't that far off a double-click, and swiping through photos and pinch-to-zoom aren't too complex either - but we're clearly only at the very beginning.
The processing power of touchscreen devices is rising at a vertiginous rate. My iPhone 3G is two years old; it has a 412MHz CPU, and when I replace it, the device will likely by clocked at 1GHz - Motorola is even rumoured to have a 2GHz phone due by the end of the year. Touchscreen devices aren't just faster, they're also packing ever more sophisticated sensors - the iPhone 3G has GPS, the 3GS added a compass, iPhone 4 adds a gyroscope. Together, these two tech trends will mean future devices will be able to both gather more data (where they are in space, where the user is and where objects are) and process it at ever faster speeds, all leading to incredible possibilities for UI design.
But don't just listen to me. I suggest you watch the video below – it’s simply incredible, and gives a very credible vision of where interfaces will be headed in the next decade. Beam me up, dudes.