Friday 27 September 2013

Interface Wakeup Call

The new "tap & go" credit card terminals attached to cash registers is a great replacement for time consuming chip and pin transactions. Cash used to be faster than credit cards, but not anymore (provided transactions are low value). As consumers become more and more "cashless," this is a great way to speed up everyone's exit from retailers. Mind you, a lot of the old cards don't work with these new systems, but some of the new multi readers can handle swipe, insert or tap interactions. Take your pick.

The digital interface is changing more than pecuniary transactions. In addition to the new generation of phones and pads, navigation systems in cars use touch screens and so do all kinds of appliances. Touch technology is now cheaper to manufacture and is more efficeint and uses less electricity than traditional analog interface devices such as knobs, buttons and joysticks.

Using a combination of TFT (Thin Film Transistor) LCD (Liquid Crytstal Display) and sensors to monitor changes to the surface, these new devices detect where and when you touch them. Some even detect multiple contacts or touch points (for pinch zooming). I'm not going to get into transparent chemical vapor deposition, but I do want to point out how backwards and regressive interface technology appears in contemporary film and TV.

While old movies like Forbidden Planet can be forgiven for enormous handles and archaic switches in their space ships, they look absurd today. As nostalgia, such analog interface devices were lovingly celebrated in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). What can't be forgiven are those ridiculous animated email sequences in movies from the '90s - where envelopes fly around on the screen to indicate you have a message. I guess they didn't think anyone would ever have more than one email a day. Then there's those idiotic screens with colours and lights and grids and swooshes with no labels so a user has no idea what any of it does. Star Trek The Next Generation is at the top of that list, although the self-destruct sequence in Alien has to come a close second. Here's a link to a story about restoring the STNG bridge. Here is the ship scuttle interface screen from Alien.

Film and TV production designers and art directors need to wake up and see what is happening with contemporary interface development. The audience is certainly more familiar with what is going on than they are.

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