Friday, July 06, 2007

Cringely on Universal UI Platform

Every time I struggle with the UI on a programmable thermostat, automatic sprinkler, or whatever, I think "how much better would it be if all intelligent devices (which is getting to be most devices) could be accessed via a PC interface?" Cringely touches on this in a recent column:

Think about anywhere you see a graphical user interface that isn't attached to a PC -- kiosks, high-end TV remote controls, touchscreens, ATMs, cell phones, digital cameras, VCRs, DVRs, GPS systems, set-top boxes, computer monitors, televisions, elevators, the Toyota Prius, medical equipment, Point of Sale systems, the "cash registers" at McDonalds -- everywhere, really.

In each case, the user interface was probably developed by a specialized team for specific hardware. The team may have limited training in GUI design or usability, the interface may not be portable across new device models, and the development tools may not be very evolved, which would slow the GUI creation process.

Flash potentially solves all those problems AND creates new opportunities.

Flash is well understood, and the development environment is highly evolved and therefore efficient. There are many experienced Flash designers, so the pool of available talent is potentially much larger. GUI design can be done by people who don't require intimately specialized knowledge of the underlying hardware. GUI elements would be portable across device models and even device categories. Think how the right-facing triangle of the "Play" button started on tape recorders, moved to VCRs, and is now on CD players, DVD players, DVRs, iPods, and any hardware or software that records or plays back content.

GUIs would evolve much more quickly and cost less to create. There could be standard interface libraries for all types of uses, and the similar GUIs would lower the learning curve for users. Talented interface designers would be in demand. User interfaces would be potentially upgradeable. More interesting, GUIs could be user-specific: the same cell phone might have a "Grandma interface" for one user, but a very different GUI for teens. And there's no reason why that should stop with cell phones.


  1. I've become a recent convert to the Flash realm. There's a reason why Microsoft is trying to (belatedly) enter this realm with their Silverlight technologies--it is the future.

  2. A long way from the "Flash is Evil" days, eh?