Two Visions of Input Devices

June 25, 2012 by Gabe | [mmd] |

Here are two different visions of user input in the future1:

They are both relevant and viable solutions but solve two different problems.

The keyboard is an answer to a question from the 50's: How do we communicate commands to a computer with only our hands?

Siri is an answer to a more general question: How do we communicate commands to a computer?

It would be ignorant to knock anyone for making better input devices like keyboards. Tactile interfaces have their place. The keyboard is great. I'm a keyboard junkie. Spoken commands also have an important role to play in the evolution of computing devices. I don't want everyone in my office shouting at their screen. When I'm in an isolated environment I can speak much faster and more fluidly than I can type.

Siri is a small step in the progression towards human-like interactions with computers. It starts with simple question and answers today and leads to more natural interactions in the future. The next steps would be natural language conversations where Siri recognizes intonation or context. There's a lot to spoken language that is difficult to interpret and that is completely lost in conversion to text. There is also a lot of efficiency in spoken language. My hope for Siri is for more than dictation.2

Often there is meaning in a pause

Me: "Call, Donny, um, um" Siri: "Donny Smith?" Me: "No. Donny from bowling." Siri: "Donny Kerabatsos?" Me: "Yes."

The delete key is not the only way to edit

Me: "The Dude tolerates the current situation" Me: "Scratch that" Siri: "Ok" Me: "Change it to The Dude is satisfied" Me: "Wait, make that The Dude abides" Siri: "Ok"

The spoken word can quickly change context

Me: "Send Walter a text message." Siri: "Ok" Me: "Man, you should really call Smokey. He's still upset." Me: "Siri, what's the number for Smokey?" Siri: "867-5309. Do you want to insert it into this message or put it on the clipboard?" Me: "Clipboard" Siri: "Ok" Me: "Back to the text message. Change to 'He's still kinda pissed about the gun...' Paste phone number." Siri: "Ok"

I'm thrilled that two of the biggest tech companies in the world are willing to challenge the status quo and reexamine "solved" problems.

  1. I am share holder in both Apple and Nuance because I believe in their businesses and visions of the future. 

  2. My favorite source material