Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pick it up and shake it

Remember the smart clothes pegs, intelligent spoons, thinking carpets, ubiquitous umbrella and the smart chopping board? Not to mention the WiFi t-shirt? All examples, varying in quality, of ubiquitous computing interfaces.

A classic ubiquitous computing interface is novel, but immediately understandable. You shouldn't have to read the manual to understand how it works, it should just makes sense because of the ergonomics of the device. I'd point towards something like BumpTop as opposed to a traditional desktop approach for Tablet PCs. You need an interface which is an extension of how the real world works.

Accelerometers were always going to play a role in ubiquitous computing interfaces to mobile phones, and we began to see the first examples of this over two years ago. However phones with accelerometers, like Nokia's N95 and Apple's iPhone, are now starting to appear in the mass market and people are finding interesting ways of using them...

There have been several examples of interfaces using the in-built accelerometers over the last two or three months, but the one that finally got this post out of my edit queue, allows you to shake your handset once to view a new text message, and then again to lock your handset.


However despite triggering me to finally finish this post, it's probably one of the least intuitive of the ones I've come across. With a far more intuitive interface comes an application, from the same people, that lets you flip over your phone to silence the ringer, or an alarm, and then flip it back to return turn them back on again. This makes perfect sense to me...


Of course what put this post in my edit queue in the first place, back in November last year, was the application that allowed you to create a secure connection (via Slashdot and New Scientist) between two Bluetooth devices by shaking them together to pair them. Again, this makes perfect sense, and it extends existing common sense ideas of how the world works into the computing realm.


Returning to text messages I stumbled across another project, called Shoogle (via New Scientist). Here the accelerometer, and audio feedback, is used to tell you about the state of the device. Like the Flashbag, a USB flash drive that actually changes size in line with how much data it contains, we're extending a concept that is already familiar. The fact that if you shake a container it makes more noise if it contains more items, and mapping that directly onto the phone's interface. I like this one as well, who hasn't forgotten about a text message that arrived when they were driving, or otherwise occupied. If your phone 'jingled' in your pocket like your keys you'd have an intuitive reminder that you had a message waiting.


With touch screen technology finally coming of age the next step in the user interface war pretty much has to be using those in-built accelerometers. So with shades of the Etch-A-Sketch past, you should just pick it up and shake it...

Update: Yet another accelerometer application. ShakeLock is a Python application that will lock (and unlock) you phone when you pick it up and shake it...