Hollywood's technological fantasies: Good for Iron Man, bad for everyone else
Hollywood has made it seem like any computer not controlled by flailing arms, fast-moving fingers, and dramatic poses will soon be as quaint as mechanical typewriters. In a few years, it'll be in with the cameras and microphones and out with the keyboards, trackpads, and touchscreens -- that is, so long as we continue to favor form over function.
The trouble with Hollywood's version of these interfaces is that they're designed to make even the simplest actions exciting to watch by making them more flashy and complex than their mundane counterparts. No-one wants to watch Robert Downey Jr. search the Web on a beaten-up laptop.
That isn't stopping companies like Leap Motion or Haptix from trying to develop interfaces that seem to be directly inspired by Hollywood, however. The former released its motion-sensing controller earlier this year, to a middling reception; the latter is looking to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter for a device meant to "transform any flat surface into a 3D multitouch surface to control your computer, TV, or any other screen."
Leap Motion is meant to help people "do things on your computer just like you do them in real life." The Verge, in its review of the device, calls the product "a technological step in the wrong direction" borne from Hollywood's obsession with motion control instead of what actual people want to do with their computers. Motion control looks good and can be fun for short periods of time, but it's not yet able to replace other, proven input methods like keyboards and touchscreens.
Haptix's Kickstarter page shows the device being used to transfer drawings from paper to screen in real-time, to control a game of "Fruit Ninja" being played on a television set, and to navigate a spreadsheet without having to move away from the keyboard. And every one of those actions looks like it would be better accomplished with a plain-jane touchscreen.
Controlling what's happening on a television set by dragging a finger along a coffee table makes for an interesting tech demo but seems like it would be frustrating in practice. What if something's on the coffee table? What if I don't want to have Haptix on the table -- or, in the spreadsheet's case, on the top of my laptop's display -- all the time? And do I really trust Haptix to differentiate between a keystroke and a tap on my keyboard?
Earlier this morning my colleague Hamish McKenzie wrote about the problems of having "too much tech," of relying on seemingly-compelling features that are theoretically interesting but are frustrating in practice.
That's what these devices -- and others trying to make our technical reality better resemble Hollywood's fantasies -- seem like.