iPhones, Surface Computing – A New Way

iPhones, Surface Computing – A New Way

July 3rd, 2007 | Posted in Business & Economy, Science & Tech

Brenda’s previous blog rings true, and rather than adding a comment, let me add this way. The two major computing input forms, the qwerty keyboard and the mouse have been around since 1873 and 1981 respectively. Amazingly little has changed. Until now.

About five years ago at the University of Washington Human Interface Technology Lab, where I am an honorary visiting scholar, I began to see demonstrations of gesture-based computing. One stood around a table-top and used hand gestures to move a computer cursor and navigate a Windows desktop. Bringing your thumb and finger together, for example, was like a mouse click. The research system used an overhead camera to see you, and a projector beneath the table to show the results. Later, at the sister lab in New Zealand I observed that gesture based system applied to wall-size screens that became part of the New Zealand entry to the last world’s fair in Japan.

These experiments did not lead directly, so far as I know, to the Microsoft Surface Computing product announced on May 30, 2007. I had been invited to be a small scale project advisor, observing the product before launch and providing feedback. Like the old HIT Lab experiments the Surface Computing product uses a system to see objects including your hands on the tabletop, and then you can interact with the digital world naturally. See their overview here. I believe it will be a product that appears in every media room eventually, as well as in commercial settings. The best application: lay your digital camera on the table top, and Surface recognizes it, and automatically downloads all the photos. Then, view them, enlarge them, move them into some other device, or perhaps best, flip a photo over, write a message on the back with your finger, then email the instant postcard to someone.

And then there is the iPhone. My wife and I purchased ours this weekend. I can only say wow. She sold me when we stepped into the store and she called up Futurist.com on the screen. (We look gorgeous, by the way.) There are reviews everywhere, for example see Gina Smith. We are finding that it breaks the rules. Navigation is easy, intuitive, eye-popping. YouTube videos are stunnning. The sync with our Windows Outlook flawless. Email configuration (with Verizon DSL web host) took a little scritching, and waiting for ATT to grab our Verizon cell phone numbers did take 24 hours.

When Kanna, Administrative Manager here at Futurist.com saw my iPhone today, she immediately imagined it as her only computer. All it needs is a bluetooth keyboard, and either a bluetooth screen or a built in mini-projector, and, she wondered, why would she need anything else?

iPhone asks that you touch the sreen, Surface can see a gesture and respond to touch. Both are the first new thing in digital interaction in decades.

Glen Hiemstra

About Glen Hiemstra

Glen Hiemstra is the founder and owner of Futurist.com. An internationally respected expert on future trends, long-range planning and creating the preferred future, Glen has advised professional, business, and governmental organizations for two decades.


  1. Glen Hiemstra   |   Jul 10, 2007

    Erik, you have a point of course. Voice commands, data gloves, touch screens have all been around, but not widely used by consumers except for touch screens. Heck, I tried a data glove and VR gogles in 1989. I ought to have mentioned that. My point is that the touch software in the iPhone and the gesture based system in Surface may change, and probably will change the interface as much as the mouse did versus the plain keyboard. Though iPhone is really just a variation on touch, when you use it and fly through lists according to the speed at which you flick your finger, it becomes a nice analogue for a real gesture. And Microsoft’s Surface is even more revolutionary in its ability to see and respond to gesture rather than touch, though touch works also.

  2. Adam   |   Jul 9, 2007

    I think it’s not so much that the input hasn’t changed, it’s more that the newer forms of input didn’t have much support the first few times around. Anyone remember the P5 Glove from ’01 or so? Didn’t think so.

    Nintendo has been coming out with all sorts of new interfaces lately, and actually supporting them for once (unlike the old Power Glove). I have to wonder if maybe that’s helping drive interest in all these new technologies.

  3. Erik Swedberg   |   Jul 9, 2007

    I object to your blanket statements “amazingly little has changed” (since the invention of the mouse), and “[iPhone and Surface] are the first new thing[s] in digital interaction in decades”.

    First, the mouse has been around since before 1981… as far as I know Douglas Engelbart unveiled it as part of his famous 1968 demo:

    Next, all kinds of alternative computer interactions have been under development and possible for far longer than the iPhone and Surface have been around (stylus, gestural, voice, thought, wearable, etc.). You probably know more about this than I do, what with your involvement in the HITLab and all.

    I’m confused as to why the release of 2 new products make us so easily want to forget history.