Invisible Interfaces

May 10, 2023

The first time I started thinking about very small devices was when I moved all my data from my computer hard drive to Dropbox.

It quickly occurred to me that I was only carrying my phone or laptop around with my until the time I needed to use of the data that was stored somewhere in the cloud. Outside of those times, I didn’t * need * the phone with me.

I wrote a couple of years ago about an idea to use other people’s iPhones to access your data. Of course we sort of do this already with applications, but that’s not really the UX I was getting at.

There is a compute reason to carry around a phone. It has all the hardware required to give you an internet connection, a battery, local storage, etc. But all of those things will continue to reduce in size.

The other reason is the interface. I could give you a wallet sized device that has all your data and information in it, but if it didn’t have a screen, you wouldn’t be able to do anything with it.

So we invented touch screens. Interfaces that allow us to control what our hardware does. And they have largely solved the problem of interacting with our data. But are they the end point? Is this the best design we can imagine?

This week Humane demo’d a new product that has rethought the human x computer interface.

Touch screens have been replaced with voice prompts, a speaker and a small projected image. All of which seems to fit inside a shirt pocket.

This is good. This is much closer to human x computer interface that supports us rather than distracts us.

There are just too many trade off’s to the ‘always-on’ screen in our pocket.

When Apple launched the ‘slide to unlock’ iPhone in 2007, they could not have imagined the ways in which future versions of their technology would be used to hijack the minds of a generations.

There are some many wonderful uses cases for internet connected computers that travel with us. But there are more that we should avoid.

I love the idea of a screen-less device(s) that can get you the information you need when you need it and then disappear when you don’t. That feels like an idea worth pursuing.