Microsoft Surface

I strangely don’t have a lot to say about the already wellblogged offer from Microsoft, Microsoft Surface. It’s obviously pretty and nice and I’d like one of course. Sort of. In any case it would be remiss of me not to blog about it.

Microsoft Surface

It’s pretty much like every other multi-touch interface plus some object recognition (actually visual code tags are attached to the objects in the demo, apparently) built-in. If it’s as smooth as it looks in the very slick videos and has no lag at all then I expect it’ll make a splash rather like plasma screens – first in expensive retail and hotel spaces (plus a few ad agency lobbies) before gradually making it’s way into homes. How much would I pay for one? Not the $5k-10k they’re asking at the moment (though kudos to them for getting an actual product released). Maybe if it could also be my media centre with some kind of wi-fi streaming to the TV (I’m sure they’ve thought of this) it’s a less ugly way to have a computer in the living room. Apart from the fact that the ‘coffee table’ looks like a Star-Trek prop.

I found some of the ideas in the demo pretty interesting, and this still from Engadget’s hands-on (is it really that hard to work out a tip? Still, the little slider is nice). It’s much more Apple-style digital lifestyle than I’m used to seeing from Microsoft and it seems to hook into the whole vista vibe in the sense that they really seem to be much more focussed on the experience and not just tool-like functionality. For me, of course, it’s great to see all of this become more playful and I have no doubt that the physical movements one makes when using it have a lot to do with it. More on that theme in a little while – I’m writing a PhD chapter on it.

Multitouch City Wall

The CityWall is a new work by the Ubiquitous Interaction (Uix) research group in Helsinki as part of the IPCity project. It gathers tagged images and video from places like Flickr and YouTube as well as organising it into themes for events.

CityWall in action

One great thing about it is the fact that it is a mutlitouch interface that is out of the labs and ‘on the streets’. The multitouch system was developed by Uix’s John Evans and Tommi Ilmonen. The challenge, according to Evans, was that unlike Jeff Han’s very well-known work in this area, their screen had to work outside of the lab – “ambient light, dirty hands, dirty screen, day and night,” he says.

The payoff for all that hard work is how how easily people negotiate the interface without thinking about it. It’s a really nice combination of technology trends – multitouch with public installations and social content generation.

The YouTube video below shows how it all works, including the computer vision. You can view a nicer version on the CityWall site or download the MPEG4 Version (h.264 26MB).

Orbit on Creative Insecurity

Teaching is an interesting process of projection. Much like any other relationship you project your own fears, bad habits and insecurities onto your students and implore them not to do the same. I tried to be honest about this to my students and is why I wrote some thoughts on life as a creative individual.

There is a piece on William Orbit in the Guardian today that was really revealing. Orbit’s Strange Cargo was pretty much the soundtrack to many hours of working in front of the computer in my final year at university.

The Guardian piece is about him moving into composing a symphony and leaving behind his electronica roots. It’s a bold move and one fraught with personal demons I should imagine. But what is most refreshing is to hear someone who is arguably at the top of their game being totally honest about how scary it all is:

“I had thought of taking a tranquiliser before that first rehearsal, and I wished I had because I just felt so amateurish; I was sure that when they started playing, everybody would be laughing at me. But then Alexander picked the order of the pieces and we got going, and by the time we got to the last movement, I realised there was something happening there. I knew what I was doing was valid.”

Anyone who decides to work creatively on anything and who really puts their neck out deserves some praise. Even if it ends up being rubbish. That’s the point. So, huge respect to Mr. Orbit and it should make the rest of use feel a bit bolder.

Avant-Garde Tube

Nice post from Dan Hill over at City of Sound about finding a whole host of avant-garde films on YouTube, particularly Len Lye’s film, Free Radicals (see below). Dan also mentions Malcolm Le Grice who I remember being my head of school when I was at college.

Lye has been a massive influence on video and media art and certainly and a great deal of interactive/generative art too. Interesting also to watch this documentary on Raster-Noton with Olof Bender talking about trying to find a modern aesthetic, yet borrowing from 50 years ago in terms of the similar approach. The same is true of most VJs too – they/we all owe a lot to Lye.

How children use the Internet

I found Richard Sarson’s piece, The Kids Are Alright Online, over at the Guardian interesting today. He interviews children about their internet usage and the role technology plays in their lives. It has a lot to do with the issues we discuss in the Omnium Project, so I’ve blogged about it there instead of double-posting here if you want to take a look.

One thing caught my eye, though, that I’ll repeat here:

Broadly, Josh, Anna and James all use similar sites and programs in similar ways: their favourite sites are MySpace, Bebo, MSN, YouTube, the iTunes Store and they play World of Warcraft. Why one rather than another? Because “their friends are on there already”; loyalty can shift en masse. They do like sites to be easy to use. Josh prefers Bebo because he finds MySpace “fiddly”.

Not only do I, too, find MySpace an absolute interface design hell, but the notion that loyalty can shift en masse is really crucial to anyone working in this area. It shows how quickly your humming community can become a ghost town. It’s worth reading Mike’s links on the Network Effect for why it’s so crucial to look after everyone in your community or customer base.

Joost Invites

So, I’ve been playing with Joost a bit and it looks like it’s going to become something pretty near to an alternative to television. At the moment it’s still a bit too cable channel for me – it’s somewhere not quite as weird and wonderful as YouTube and of course not the level of normal TV production. But it’s getting there…

In any case, I’ve got invites – as many as I want apparently. So if you want to try it out, let me know.

Joost™ the best of tv and the internet

If you’ve no idea what Joost is, check their (pretty nice) promo video below, or visit the Joost site:

What is Joost?

Tiny phone. Not.

This e-mail flyer from Act Now contained this gem demonstrating not only a ridiculous fear of litigation, but also a lack of understanding of resolution (because it could be actual size depending on your screen):

Very small Nokia phone

John Gruber on the iPhone

John Gruber is one of the few Apple advocates that writes with intelligent consideration rather than just being an over-enthused fanboy. He has just written a pretty smart analysis of the Apple iPhone pricing, which Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer lambasted.

Before the iPhone was announced I was in a meeting with some folks at Fjord in which the team were discussing applications for various phones. Like many who regularly browse mobile phone shops to see what’s going on, I have long been thinking that there are simply just too many. But what struck me in the Fjord meeting was just how many different interfaces and products even one manufacturer made.

Compared to the iPod it seemed absurd. Sure there have been various generations of the iPod, but they have all pretty much been minor variations on a theme. The iPhone, as Gruber says, is more complex, but basically an iPod that also does a whole lot more.

All the different phones around are due to some misguided market segmentation, I believe. Much smarter would be to make a product with a broad appeal. Gruber makes a good point here:

Why worry about the iPhone’s appeal to corporate IT? The iPod isn’t marketed to businesses and Apple has sold 100 million of them. The iPod is marketed to people, and the iPhone is, too. RIM sold 2 million BlackBerry devices in its most recent quarter; Apple sold 10.5 million iPods in the same period.

And there’s a huge, fundamental difference between these two markets. Businesses, typically, want to buy the cheapest things possible for their employees to use. When buying for themselves, people want to buy the nicest things they can afford.

Personally I’d rather see less flavours of phones from Nokia and, instead, one or two really well designed ones each year. Much smarter to get everyone to love the one thing you make rather than make a whole spread of things badly.

Draw on Walls, with Light

A while ago Chris O’ Shea wrote about the Philips Simplicity Project, which had a number of mainly light-based inventions, several of them interactive.

One of them was this Drag and Draw idea – it’s basically a ‘bucket’ filled with light. Aimed at children, the child can dip a stick into the bucket and paint with light on the wall. I’m not really clear on the technology behind it, such as where the projection comes from (a laser projector in the bucket it seems – which doesn’t sound brilliantly safe for children’s eyes).

It looks to be a very lovely and intuitive interaction, especially when you can magically animate the drawing and reminds me a bit of Soda’s Moovl

Chris has found a video compilation online – I’m re-blogging it below: