I call this the iWish because I wish Sony would get their act together and improve the PSP. So many people are doing such amazing and innovative things these days, and yet the only innovative thing to happen to the PSP since 2005 was that it got a little slimmer. Whoopedy-frikkin-doo-dah-day.
But I didn't make the iWish image to talk about that.
I made it so I could talk about THE FUTURE OF GADGETS!!! ...and, in particular, about two main trends taking place:
- All types of hand-held gadgets are being integrated into one- becoming a single do-all device.
- The need for a single User-Interface to link all the functions of this "do-all device" is beginning to emerge, but has yet to be created.
ALL GADGETS ARE BECOMING ONE
Eventually there'll be simply one gadget that does everything. Period. Or to be more specific- everything related to information. This uber-device won't blend your cocktail, trim your hedges, or replace your electric shaver, but it will do everything else besides. It's your phone/ internet/ GPS/ camera/ tv-tuner/ projector/ gamepad/ media-player/ umpc/ scanner/ RFID/ universal-remote-contol/ game controller/ flashlight/ laserpointer/ etc, etc... in one. I call this do-all device an Omni-Gadget (if only to put an air of godliness around the idea). The iWish is a whimsical glimpse of what an omni-gadget might look like.
If you're wanting to design a do-all-phone, then you only need to wait for the next iteration of the iPhone, as you won't get much better a design than that. But if you want to design an omni-gadget, a device that does everything, then you've got to make some design sacrifices- and here's why...
If an omni-gadget actually really genuinely does do "everything" then it should also play games. And properly. If it does, (and it should if it is to meet its own definition) then this automatically adds the need to hold it like a controller, not to mention adding about 12 points of input to go with it (buttons, triggers, sticks, etc). You'll never be able to play Grand Theft Auto on an iPhone. You will have to have a full amount of gamer user inputs in the final omni-gadget design regardless. This will inevitably make any design of an omni-gadget a clunky, unweildy, brick-like behemoth. If you didn't need to play games, then you could essentially do away with everything and simply have a touch screen and nothing more. ...However you would still need the screen to slide up to reveal a space for keyboard/trackpad functionality firstly because typing on a touch screen isn't very good, but also because the device will be used for so many different applications that it will require a trackpad/keyboard area. So that's another design hindrance. Then we run into the size of the screen itself. Since the omni-gadget will also act as a UMPC (ultra mobile personal computer) the screen must therefore be big enough to make this a happy experience. And if that isn't enough, the omni-gadget will also be your main photo-snapping and video camera as well, not a secondary one, so it needs to have an overall depth to the device large enough to house a decent photo-capturing mechanism inside it. This would include a zoom function of at least x3 capability. This, with the thickness of the sliding screen and keyboard, already makes it quite obese as far as gadgets go. Aesthetically, it needs to make an even further sacrifice by leaving a space large enough near the front panel for a web cam so it can make video calls. All these are restrictions to design.
An omni-gadget must include:
- the buttons of a full controller
- as big a touchscreen as possible
- a keyboard
- a decent sized camera and zoom
- a webcam right next to the screen
...and yet still be small enough to fit in your pocket. ...That's tough.
The best design solution I've seen that goes towards satisfying all these requirements and still manage to look pretty is the PSP (minus the camera and webcam of course). And, indeed, the PSP is a very sexy looking thing. When it first came out it was eye-poppingly beautiful. Well done to Sony. The PSP provides a good starting point to what an omni-gadget might look like, which is why I ripped it off with my iWish image. Ironically though, a PSP is not the ideal design for playing games. The ergonomics of holding it for long periods of time is less than ideal. From a purely ergonomic perspective, if you cut a gamecube controller in half and put a screen in the middle, that would be the template for the perfect ergonomic games-playing omni-gadget. The trouble is that this design would be as ugly as sin. There is actually a way to have proper controller ergonomics, still with the PSP design, but I wasn't able to show that here with the iWish, however I hope to do so with further iterations of the concept. So, using the PSP as a starting point, squeeze in all the extra functions, like: Camera, GPS, wi-fi, infra-red, keyboard, webcam, SSD (solid-state drive), phone connectivity, etc, and this would be... an omni-gadget. Huzzah!
(NOTE: You wouldn't put this thing to your ear when you get a call though, as my friend assumed, because that would look ridiculous. You'd either speak into the mic along the earbud's cord, or speak at the screen as you would a friend on skype infront of your PC. It's not a phone. Besides which, bringing an entire device near your head in order for you to operate it is probably a concept that won't be around for much longer, historically-speaking).
A lot of people will ridicule me about integrating a keyboard into the design and accuse me of out-dated thinking. Keyboards are old-tech, they'll say. Well, besides my practical qualms I have with touchscreen-only devices, the keyboard in the iWish image is meant to represent a keyboard that also doubles as a trackpad. (A touchpad-keyboard? A track-board? A keytrackpad?) Imagine a trackpad three or four times the size of the trackpad on your laptop. Now imagine this over-sized trackpad with keyboard buttons cut into it. If you press your finger on a key it will depress like a regular key on a keyboard- making a satisfying click! But if you run your finger across the keys without pressing any of them, then it acts as a trackpad. This allows for much more functionality and flexibility that was previously unachievable.* At the side of the keyed-trackpad you would have a dedicated toggle key to switch between this surface acting as a keyboard and acting as a trackpad. It is another example of gadgets becoming integrated into one another... and goes towards the argument of not relying on a touch screen as your only input device. (Besides, if a keyboard is as undesirable to look at as what Apple wants us to believe, nor used all the time, then making the screen slide over it is the perfect design solution. 'nuff said).
I may also get a lot of criticism talking about an omni-gadget with such a large part of its design being dedicated to games. As you can see from the extra icons around them, these gaming buttons are multi-functional depending on what the omni-gadget is doing. It means that you can not just:
- play games,
- but also have full functionality of a digital camera,
- and be able to interface with any games console (so you'd always have a spare controller when you go to a friend's house. (Only possible with two thumb sticks (A wasted opportunity from Sony)))
- and these extra game buttons also enable the device to act as a universal remote control converting the gaming buttons to volume, channel, play, pause, etc.
So these extra gaming buttons enable the device to be much more. The tragedy is that it makes the final design look comparitively ugly next to the iPhone. I struggled with the idea of not including gaming buttons until I realised that this is like comparing apples to oranges because an omni-gadget isn't a phone. Right now the iPhone can do a lot, and the new version (iPhone 2?) will do a whole lot more. But the iPhone is still, essentially, a phone that does a lot, but it isn't every gadget all in one. That's an omni-gadget. Different.
Think of a phone as something you would take with you most places that can do extra things adequately.
Think of an omni-gadget as something you'd take with you everywhere- trekking, on research assignments, lectures, work- and be able to do everything brilliantly without compromise.
Think of an omni-gadget as something you'd take with you everywhere- trekking, on research assignments, lectures, work- and be able to do everything brilliantly without compromise.
Using this comparison a phone and an omni-gadget seems to be a different product. In a lot of ways I see the omni-gadget as being a version of that utopian sci-fi vision of the future where everyone has a personal robot who does everything for them. It's their friend, their servant, their teacher, and their connection to the Global Brain that links all knowledge. (Which will most likely end up being called Google Brain).
Design-wise, some people will then ask: If there are so many gaming buttons around the screen, then why put 6 more buttons along the top? (A, B, C, 1, 2 and 3) Originally it was to fill up the dead space on either side of the iSight camera, but when it came time to thinking about ideas for the omni-UI (not shown) I felt that even with the best UI in the world... you would still need the reliability of a dedicated button for your favourite or most used functions. A lot of iPhone users won't be able to (or won't want to) understand this, but real buttons are essential, particularly when you need to get to a function without actually looking at what you're doing. I want to be able to not even look at the device and still be able to access its main functions. For example...
Let's say there's an event that needs a photo as quickly as possible. You're at an international press conference and take the wrong door. You enter and see George W Bush with his hand down Condi's pants! It's a photo for both the history books and the tabloids. They both look up as you grab your omni-gadget. The last thing you want to do is look at what screen you're in and find where the camera icon is. By that time George's hand is out and it's only you who knows the truth- not the world. So ideally, you want to hit a button dedicated to the camera as soon as you grabbed the device from your pocket, so that by the time the camera is pointing at them you are ready to take the shot (and let the World know what everyone has suspected all along).
At the end of the day I believe the omni-gadget of the future will look a lot like the iWish (except for the UI shown here), and that it will be a tussle between the iPhone clones and the omni-gadgets. This battle will take place on cafe tables and boardroom tables across the world. One person will put down their iClone, the other will put down their massive PSP-like omni-gadget, and it will be the scope of functionality that will decide the victor, not the design. You'll most likely get a version with gaming buttons, one without, and an accessory that everyone will despise that will try to solve the disparity.
ONE UI TO RULE THEM ALL
The UI aspect of an omni-gadget is what fascinates me the most- even though I haven't provided any images of the ideas I have for an omni-UI design in this post. The mock iPhone UI that I placed on the iWish was only meant to be funny, and a little provocative. I don't believe the iPhone UI, as pretty as it is, will be able to cope once more PC-like functionality becomes integrated into iPhones, however the slow crunching of gears when it tries will be interesting to watch. Most likely we'll see many companys' attempts end up as a collection of bits stuck together, rather than a seamless intuitive UI experience. The main reason why I believe this will occur is because of how we currently look at communication. Right now we differentiate between texts, chat messages and emails, and then create further divisions between their sources (Gchat, iChat, MSN messenger, Skype chat, etc). If the gadgets that provide the communication are becoming integrated, then why wouldn't the mediums of communication become integrated also? For example: If a friend wants to send me a written message, and I receive that message, what do I care if it's a Gchat or an iChat or a Yahoo Mail or a hotmail? They are words, and I receive them. That's all I care about. Period. The same goes for voice and video.
Essentially the omni-gadget UI will act as shell for all forms of communication to operate underneath- The user only being able to see the shell. I could have three different kinds of text communications sent to me in three different formats, but all I would see would be simply: 3 messages.
A txt can be as long as an email. An email as short as a txt. Formats defined by their size no longer matter. Nor should data attachments.
If I were to write a message on my omni-gadget and send it with a data package attached, the UI shell would be intelligently choosing the best way to send that information on my behalf- in whatever format- as I'm typing it.
With communication completely integrated by the omni-gadget's UI it means that my device will show me only four types of mediums:
- data (ie. programs)
Stripping down to just four formats will make organising files and information much easier than today's file sorting on PCs. And with future UIs being a mixture of a 2d and 3d interface, file sorting will be easier still. The desktop as we know it today may emerge into something quite different in the coming years- and following on from that, how we use them will change also.
An example of a completely integrated UI in action would be a white screen with a single cursor in the middle. All input is case sensitive. As soon as I type in a word or a number I should be able to see icons appear that correspond to what I may need. Type in a number and calculator buttons and unit conversion buttons appear. Type in a word and icons for search engines, or contact lists appear. Let's say I type in: "Hey, what are you doing?". I touch my contact list icon, and a screen of faces appears. I touch the face I want, let's say Hayley's, and I get prompt: Send / Attach / Cancel. I touch Send and I've just sent this sentence (as a txt/email/whatever) to Hayley, and in just three taps. From this "Info" screen I can access many layers of functionality within the same device.
The understanding that there is so much the omni-gadget can do, yet it's the UI's responsibility to get you to every function as quickly and intuitively as you can means 2 things need to happen:
- Dedicated buttons/icons for favourite functions need to be one tap away.
- If there is no dedicated button/icon available to get you to a function then you need to be able to get to where you're going as simply as possible.
This last point requires an interface all unto itself, otherwise you'll get the iPhone screen with page after page of icons- which would look messy, and confusing. So without using the smörgåsbord option, yet still be able to get to everything, you would need a Hub screen. From here, in order to contain the omni-gadget's entire spectrum of functionality into one branching tree we would start with five pools of basic motivation:
- Camera (Take/Shoot/Record/Collect) Access to the cameras and mics on the device.
- Info (Search/Find) Access to the internet, calculator, unit-converter,etc, but with cross-over with other pools of functionality (like Contact Lists, etc).
- Work (Sort/Organise/Create) Access to Hubbub- a file sorting and clean-up screen, iProject (more on this later), Office Apps including Photoshop, Data-backup, etc.
- Play (Entertain) Access to a Windows Media Center-style screen accessing all media, including games, podcasts, radio, tv, and iProject files.
- Contact (Share/Communicate) Access to the phone/vid-phone, Contact List, etc.
Items like the Diary, Time, and technical asides (like battery life and signal strength) are always easily accessible from almost every screen.
Two more ideas...
iProject - This is essentially a Flash-movie maker. With access to more information these days, and the ability to share and spread that information, I believe a public and global self-education system will emerge and this will take the form of micro-docos (small documentaries). These small edu-packs will be between 1 to 15 minutes long and use simple animations, graphs, videos, music and speech, etc, and be packaged as either youtube videos or sent as iProject files. These small education packs have so far been highly effective ways to expose ideas and inspire others. I personally recommend the video podcasts of TEDtalks. iProject would enable people to articulate and spread their ideas as efficiently and effectively as possible from their single do-all devices.
Handshake*- Instead of having a separate profile for Blogger, Facebook, Gmail, Xbox live, Sony Home, etc, why not have an Omni-profile. One profile that collects all your profiles together. You could then share your profile with others just as you would when swapping business cards (except this business card would also have your date of birth, a photo, plus a few other stats). When you meet someone new, who also has an omni-gadget (or a device with an Omni-UI) you could ask if they would like to 'handshake'. You would hit the shake icon, which would send out your signal, and they would do the same. You would then verify that you want to shake with this person. You now have added their photo and contact details directly into your Contact List, along with an annual birthday reminder added into your diary.
Originally I started thinking about an omni-gadget when I was sitting with a friend in a cafe in India. An old man came and asked if my friend had the latest Lonely Planet, which she did. As they pored over this heavily-bookmarked 2-inch thick tome, I started thinking about how that thick wad of tourist information could be easily condensed to a digital file and read on an e-reader of some description. Then... I thought about all Lonely Planets collected into one digital volume. Then... I thought about integrating that information database to a wikipedia database, then integrating that into google earth, and what kind of a device I'd use to look at that information on. Then I thought:
What would the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy look like if we were to attempt to make it today?
This thought propelled me on to the idea of a single and indispensable device that would do everything you would need it to, or want it to, if you were to travel the world. From the middle of the ocean, to the densest city, to the harshest desert, to the highest mountain. No matter what country, culture or language. A currency converter, a language converter, a dictionary, and knowledge database with or without an internet connection. From then on I've been engrossed with the idea and have yet to let it go.
I hope, at some point in the future, to make a working 3-d model of the omni-gadget incorporating everything I've talked about here and more. I'm particularly interested in exploring the ideas for the omni-UI.
Please feel free to share with me your ideas in the comments section.
*This indicates an idea I haven't patented, nor ever will. Feel like using it? Go right ahead. And if, by chance, you have an opening for someone in product development, then by all means look me up. :)