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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Future (Past) of UI Design is Auto Correct Madness!

I found this article at Wired.

Basically the idea is that all these apps and HTML5 web page user interfaces are tedious and difficult to use relative to "texting."

Why not, the article postulates, use texting to interface to, for example, interact with your bank?

After all, everyone constantly texts and its a familiar interface.

So why not just select "My Bank" on the text destination menu and say "move $20 from account A to account B?"

After all, according to the article, 97% of people use texting on their phones - more than any other app...

I am reminded of the quote by George Santayana "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  Or, perhaps more accurately, my corollary "Those who are repeating the past are condemned not to notice."

Apparently the future of smartphones is the command line.

After all, what does texting your bank do but create the notion of a command line interface.

I find this extremely interesting.

Forty years ago while first becoming introduced to "computer science" the command line was all there was.

And it was considered the largest impediment to non-computer-literate users using a computer.

You heard about "arcane command structures" and so one.

No normal person could or would use this...

Thus the notion of a "User Interface" or UI was born.

Why not invent something like a "mouse" or a "touch screen" to make things easier.

And so, for forty years, that's what we do...  Spend probably trillions of dollars on graphics, faster chips, touch screens (don't forget the lost "stylus years"), and on and on.

Until we arrive again at the notion of "command line..."

Of course, if my iPhone is any indication of what Apple can do for texting look no further than this site:

There was a lot of research in the ancient computer past of what a good command line might look like.

As far back as TOPS-20 there was the TENEX command line interpreter (see this).

It worked hard to remove ambiguity and confusion from users typing commands.

The problem with texting, of course, is that the domain space is unlimited where as with a command line interpreter the commands you can conceive of and use are bound by the set of commands the computer actually understands.

To me its like the attempts to replace something like "Emacs" as an editor (emacs descended from TECO).  Minimal command interface.  Once you learned it well the commands would spring from your hands without thought.  And much, much more efficient that having to type, stop typing and grab a mouse, then let go of the mouse and type, etc.

I was always amazed in the late 80's after PC's became popular how much less efficient a kid that had grown up on PC's was at editing than a good emacs user.

The bottom line here, unfortunately for the new "command line" texting model, is that for command lines to work efficiently you have to have a domain of knowledge where the next portion of the command can be inferred from context.

For example, many modern OS's today let you type something like:

  copy a

where what is inferred after you type the letter 'a' is a choice of all files starting with 'a' - then, of course, there's some mechanism to pick which file you are interested very quickly.

Texting there really isn't much to infer from.

So if I text Bob "let's meet at a" is 'a' a set of restaurants, hotels, car dealers, etc.???

Now maybe we could try and guess but most likely in that case we would end up in the land of Apple auto-correct madness.

Now I don't know what the best UI idea is, but apparently I've already seen it because we are starting at the beginning again.

(I doubt we'll have everyone carrying around punch cards for the smart phones...)

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