When Steve Jobs unveil the magical multi-touch interaction on the first iPhone, everyone is getting wowed by it. Thanks to Steve’s decision on making an iPhone first instead of an iPad (multi-touch screen is initially designed at the size of iPad), as well as the top notch touch-oriented operating system – the iOS, finger-friendly touch interaction is able to reach thousands and thousands of people around the world, and it is even more magical on the iPad. A new page in human-computer interface is then opened, and we are slowly moving away from stylus-based and button-based interaction.
Touch-free interaction is emerging
That’s the first one. Second thing from Apple, which started to push (indirectly) for touch-free interaction, the almighty voice assistant in the iPhone 4S – Siri. With Siri, you can talk to the device, asking for assistance in scheduling, setting alarm etc. with natural language, though it obviously cannot fully replace the existing touch interface due to the limitation in terms of functionality and practicality, but it’s well on track for initiating the next thing in Human-Computer Interaction – a Touch-free Interaction.
Of course, in the game console world, there are already a few commercialized devices (such as Microsoft Kinect, PlayStation Eye) that promoting touch-free interaction – gesture-based interaction and/or facial recognition – they works well in living room distance, however, they might be not ideal for shorter range, for example in front of your PC or mobile devices (though the recent new SDK of Microsoft Kinect that includes Near Mode can open up new possibilities).
Touch-free interactive products are growing in numbers
Samsung Smart TVs
Recently there are already quite a number of products that starting to build this next future. Take a look on Samsung Smart TVs, which includes a touch-free interaction feature (Gesture control and Voice Control) for the user to interact with the TV set.
Here’s another very interesting product (with a very impressive size and scalability) – The Leap, claimed that the future is on your hand, and indeed, they have the right to say so. This device has a by impressive tracking functionality (that can track even a tip of the pencil) and awesome precision. I am totally blown away when it is used to play a FPS game with hands.
S-Voice, a slightly less-impressive but still able to get the basic job done, released by Samsung exclusively on the Samsung Galaxy S3, is a sign that touch-free interaction is the upcoming trend. Heavily inspired by Siri, the user of S-Voice can ask to do certain tasks that can be accomplished using the fingers. Demo at 2:30 in the video below.
While this technology most probably doesn’t fit in the category of touch-free interaction, but I believe soon enough this virtual manikin made using 3M Vikuiti Rear Projection Film that has been pretty widespread now in some airports around the world will have their interaction part very soon (voice recognition like Siri, for example).
With tons of rumors going around (for example the new Apple TV with Siri functionality), it’s definitely not crazy to think that in the upcoming future, more things around us that requires physical interaction will be slowly replaced with touch-free interaction, though I believe definitely not in the very near future. It is also natural that the next generation of AI will definitely getting their emotional parts, as well as understanding more things that a human exhibits – gestures, facial emotion, voice etc., and respond accordingly (Sounds a bit scary no?).
Are we getting lazy? Yes, but human are always lazy. We keep on innovating to create things that help us accomplish tasks in a better, faster, efficient way, and that’s the reason technology is important. Of course, user experience is still the number one thing in touch-free interaction – human will be the one that interact with computers nevertheless, and things changed when the technology is shifting from touch experience to touch-free experience, but it will be an awesome experience. So, welcome to the future!