Delivering on the Natural User Interface Promise

The Problem with Natural User Interface Paradigm

A fair bit of talk is bubbling about this new term Natural User Interface or NUI for short. I’ve been scouring the net about this topic because I truly believe it is the future of human/computer interaction, and there are some excellent resources out there on the subject. A large part of Natural User Interfaces is multi-touch, but one thing about it has been really pissing me off: Pinch to Zoom.

Almost every time I see a demonstration of a “Natural User Interface” usually it involves multi-touch, and that inevitably reduces to the Pinch to Zoom manipulation or some variation, where by the user puts two fingers on a screen and scatters some photos around, or zooms in on a map.

Is this the best we as developers can come up with? I mean come on, this is no better than the mouse, how is raising my arm to pinch on the screen more productive than flicking my middle finger on a mouse wheel. To quote the legend Bill Buxton “something is always good for one thing, but worst for something else”. Multi-touch is crap for zooming, sorry, but there I said it, a mouse with a wheel wins for that and you probably won’t beat it. If you want to rotate a picture at the same time then fine (clicking a mouse wheel down seems to work pretty well too, but perhaps is less intuitive).

You see the temptation with the term Natural User Interface is for designers and developers to shy away from creating interactions that we has humans are unfamiliar with in our daily lives, and I don’t think that’s right. Certainly we want our applications to be easy to use, but I want multi-touch applications that are productive,, with interactions that increase the bandwidth between me and the computer, and I think I know why I haven’t seen any examples of it yet.

Most developers build using the metaphors they are familiar with, most developers don’t have the lease of time and resources to innovate and fail, they have to deliver something that’s proven to work and proven to be useful. Multi-touch will never become as ubiquitously used as the mouse and keyboard unless someone has pioneered great interactions, that have proven to be productive, and someone has made it easy for developers to incorporate it into their products. Right now there just aren’t the tools to quickly and easily make a multi-touch application beyond a scatter photo viewer.

Delivering on the NUI Promise

I’m on a mission to remedy this issue, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it on my own, but my plan is to develop a single application that does two things:

  1. Deliver a natural user interface that inspires developers to embrace NUI not just because it’s cool, but because it’s useful!
  2. Deliver a tool that helps developers build their own NUI applications and innovate in this space (because what I come up with may turn out to suck and that’s ok).

I’m calling this application Rush and it will be a WPF / Silverlight design and development tool (because it’s what I know). In an upcoming post I hope to journal my plans for this application, but if I’m going to deliver on this grand plan I’ll need people urging me on, so please post comments, I will need all the encouragement I can get!

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