Category Archives: device form-factors

Paper: Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading

This is my latest project, which I will present tomorrow (May 9th) at the CHI 2012 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

I’ll have a longer post up about this project after I return from the conference, but for now enjoy the video. I also link to the PDF of our short paper below which has a nice discussion of the motivation and design rationale for this work.

Above all else, I hope this work makes clear that there is still tons of room for innovation in how we interact with the e-readers and tablet computers of the future– as well as in terms of how we consume and manipulate content to produce new creative works.

Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active ReadingHinckley, K., Bi, X., Pahud, M., Buxton, B., Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading. 4pp Note. In Proc. CHI 2012  Conf. on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Austin, TX, May 5-10, 2012. [PDF]

[Watch Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading on YouTube]

The Fractured State of Reading and Publishing

The bad news: I dropped my Kindle this morning.

The good news: I caught it before it hit the floor.

The even worse news: In so doing, I slammed it against the corner of my desk, smashing the e-ink screen into a starburst of gray, black, and white-plaid shards:

The newly fractured landscape of my kindle screen.The man pictured in the screen saver offers his disapproval with a withering half-frown, a my-oh-my-what-have-thee done expression as he finds himself trapped forever in this doomed terrain of shattered e-ink.

So, I guess it’s back to paper for me until my new Kindle arrives.

For a long time I never thought I would have any use for a Kindle. After all, who wants to read on a computer? And what about marking up the text, dogearing pages, or having more than one book open on my desk at a time?

Well, those behaviors are mostly my self-fueled obsessions when authoring original works of nonfiction. For recreational reading, the mechanisms for highlighting passages and bookmarking pages on the Kindle are, while somewhat clumsy and indirect, still good enough to get the job done.

And then there’s the instant gratification aspect.

This weekend up I was up at my cabin, at 3000′ elevation and nestled deep in the alpine pinnacles of the Cascade Crest, and I decided that I wanted to read another one of the mystery anthologies edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg because I recently read By Hook or By Crook on the recommendation of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and it was fantastic.

So I just brought up the book in the Kindle store, paged through the related reads, and within sixty seconds of the impulse I was reading Between the Dark and the Daylight.

But now I have to read the bloody thing on my smartphone until my new Kindle arrives.

And while I wait, it occured to me that the fractured Kindle screen pictured above strikes a perfect image of the publishing industry and the entire state of reading these days. The old world has been shattered by feedback loops in technology and ongoing market forces that just keep reinforcing one another. Paper books ain’t going away soon, but I’ll probably live to see the day where they are uncommon for most titles. Bookstores will be relegated to specialty boutique status, like the camera and stationery stores populating the deserted shoals of strip-malls.

And you know what that smells like to me?

Opportunity.

The Courier was one example of how these shifts might spawn whole new experiences or categories of devices. The Amazon Tablet might well be another. But whatever the next hot gadget or gizmo is, rest assured, I feel like a technological wolf, scenting a long series of innovations-to-come in the shifting winds, and I’ll be looking to make a killing. :-) What of tablets with pen and multi-touch? What of Nicholas Chen’s Multi-Slate Reading System, a federation of cheap slates that you can scatter about your office like the glossy marketing brochures you get in the mail, tossed aside for the day where you may or may not read them? What of flexible, paper-like displays?

We’re still in the stone age here, folks, as far as e-readers are concerned. We’ll look back fondly on the Kindle and its ilk as the quaint auto-buggies that presaged a sleek, sophisticated, and nearly unrecognizable future.

That’s where I want to be, even if I have to cobble it together with clunky prototypes, Frankenstein monsters of acrylic and delrin etched out by the laser cutter of my dreams.

In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than to follow Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, as they talk about what this means for readers and writers and the publishing industry writ large.

Interesting New Tablets from Sony

Sony announced some new tablet designs today to stir the visions of our collective tablet dreams: a sleek airfoil slate design, and a dual-screen tablet that intrigues as well.

The Sony Tablet S airfoil slate design

First off I have to say that I love the industrial design of the Tablet S slate, an asymmetric foldback airfoil-like design straight out of a smarter future. I can’t speak to the build quality, since I haven’t held one in my hands (and the comments and video posted on Engadget seem to call this into question), but I love that Sony’s designers have stepped away from the me-too design mentality of pancake slate designs: flat, thin, and boring.

I’ve held other asymmetric design concept devices for slates in my hands, though, and they offer a number of distinct advantages (even if all of them aren’t fully realized in Sony’s current offering due to its thickness). The off-kilter weight distribution seems like a bad idea at first, but when you grasp one you quickly realize that this makes a slate much more comfortable and less fatiguing to hold with a single hand. All the weight rests in your strong hand, and by virtue of accelerometer-based automatic screen rotation, you can flip it over to your other hand any time you feel like you need a break (and of course this accommodates left-handers as well).

The wedge-shaped profile of the slate also means that it’s canted just a few degrees towards you when you set it down on a tabletop. This makes the screen easier to read, and easier to interact with as well. Whenever I use my iPad (a passe generation-one model that seems oh-so-2010 by now) on a table I resent that I have to lean way forward to look straight down on it, or go grab a book or, more likely at my kitchen table, a folded-up dish towel (hopefully one without too much little-kiddo goop all over it)  to prop up the thing. And yeah, I know the case lets you prop it up, but it’s pretty flimsy and floppy.

Image credit: Engadget

The other thing that I like about the Tablet S design is they way it’s recessed on the ends (see photo above). Not only does this highlight the sleek curve of the design, and create an immediate emotional connection with the familiar shape of a glossy folded-over magazine, but it also tucks all the extra buttons and controls out of sight. But perhaps even more significant than the resulting aesthetics, this design also places the buttons out of the way of fumbling fingers so that you don’t hit them by accident when you hold or reposition the tablet.

Now if only we could design touch screens smart enough to recognize when I’ve brushed them by mistake.

The dual-screen Sony Tablet P

Any of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I have been a big advocate of dual-screen designs in the past, and have even conducted original research to explore the possibilities of such form-factors.

To be honest the industrial design on the Tablet P seems a little clumsy– it’s a little too thick, and the curved contour on the top screen doesn’t match the bottom and seems to make it a little harder to handle (in the video below, you can see that the device keeps sliding around on the table as the person interacts with it).

But Sony’s software demos for the device show a glimmering of understanding of how to leverage two interconnected screens to their best advantage. They have several demos that partition UI controls from content (video playback on top, play/pause/fast-forward controls on the bottom; video game on top, game controls on the bottom; text on top, touchscreen keyboard on bottom; and so forth). Perhaps the most interesting of the lot is the brief glimpse of an email client that we see with the text of the current message on one screen and the scrolling list of messages on the other screen.

There’s only one demo that uses the screens in portrait orientation, that of an e-book reader, which leverages the two-screened aesthetic perfectly, although the page flip animation in the current demo software leaves much to be desired (it’s an animation that takes time to play, and to my eye at least only serves to confuse, rather than guiding the eye gently through the transition to the new pages.)

The industrial design does have one nice property: the hinge design pivots the screens so that they are very close to one anther when the device is opened, and there is no raised screen bezel, so you can slide your fingers across the two screens without hitting a speed bump in the middle.

Check out the Engadget coverage of the Tablet P for more details.

Conclusion and a Reflection on the Future

The Sony Tablet S and Tablet P, whether or not they are a success in the marketplace, are good examples of the proliferation of the design space of slates, handhelds, and booklet devices. There are some really exciting possibilities opening up here with continued advances in electronics and materials science– as well as the application of good old-fashioned design chops– and it makes me wonder what the devices held by my grandkids will look like.

And in my mind, at least, when I am visited by these visions of the near future, they aren’t just ho-hum pancaked layers of plastic, silicon, and glass any longer, but rather they take flight on the fancies of mad geometers and crazed topologists, digital displays contorted and multiplied into a gleaming sculpture of the human potential.

Informal Organization and the Emerging Class of Casual-Use Devices

A while back Bill Buxton put up a brief quotation on billbuxton.com that I like a lot:

Just a thought: Slate computers and e-readers represent a new class of digital appliance– one targeted for casual use. With the growth of this market will emerge  a new and long overdue approach to interaction– one that is in keeping with the casual intent and context of such usage and which will complement, rather than replace, interfaces that support more formal and structured activities. 

He goes on to make a nice little plug for my InkSeine Tablet PC application, but that’s only a very small part of why I like his quotation.

To me Bill’s comment gets at the essence of the new approach to design and interaction demanded by this emerging class of casual-use devices.

And it’s one that’s already deeply rooted in human behavior, even back in those dark ages before our twilight dreams were set afire by the eerie blue-white glow of our iPad portals to never never land.

I like to call it informal organization. It’s a lot of why paper has remained so pervasive in the so-called “paperless” office of the modern information worker. (You could do a lot worse than to spend a weekend reading The Myth of the Paperless Office by Sellen & Harper to understand this more deeply).

But now that e-reading and tablets are gaining more and more traction, we’re seeing at least some of those paper-based behaviors and expectations smash head-on into the limitations of current-generation readers and tablets.

I can send my documents to my Kindle to read them away from my desktop; I’ve never really liked doing much reading on my computer. And printing seems wasteful and moreover has a higher transaction cost than just sending the document to my reader– hitting print, selecting the right printer, remembering to pick the auto-staple function, walking down the hall to pick it up, coming back to my office and actually starting into reading before I get interrupted and forget why the hell I printed out the document in the first place…

But on the Kindle or iPad, I can get right into reading my document quicker, but then when that moment comes that I want to mark up some copy-edits, jot an annotation in the margin, highlight a passage, slap a post-it on it with a note about what to do next, thumb back and forth quickly between multiple documents, or god forbid casually toss the document into a pile with other like-minded papers– the workflow breaks down and I am into clumsy workarounds and tricks and little idiosyncratic habits I’ve developed to make the tools work for me as best they can.

This is where the frontier in e-reading experiences currently lies.

The e-ink reader and yes even our fancy-pants multi-touch iPads are going to look like antiquated glowing green-phosphor displays to our eyes a few short years from now.

Because these unmet needs are all about the interaction experience, figuring out what the appropriate digital analogs of these behaviors are, and figuring out what the right input modalities and interaction techniques and workflow are to allow users to express these notions as quickly and casually as they can conceive of them.

I talk about some of this in my recent paper Pen + Touch = New Tools. And a few techniques are shown in the video that goes along with that, although to be honest they are clumsy and have a long way to go to get to where I really think things need to be.

As another example, take a look at the Collections mechanism on the Kindle for organizing your e-books. My friend and former colleague Jeff Pierce wrote about the rather limited Kindle book organization mechanisms on his blog, which was actually what tipped me into this little rant. Just gathering together a half-dozen short stories, or documents that you’ve emailed to yourself, or your read vs. unread books and managing that on an ongoing basis is a huge pain in the ass.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the massive shift to electronic reading that the publishing industry is tipping towards, and as more and more “real” work versus casual recreational reading moves to such devices, there’s a huge incentive to get these reading devices and tablets right.

And making something that’s even half as good as the stacks of books and papers and post-its scattered around my desk wouldn’t be a bad start.

Book Chapter: Input Technologies and Techniques, 2012 Edition

Input Technologies and Techniques, 3rd EditionHinckley, K., Wigdor, D., Input Technologies and Techniques. Chapter 9 in The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook – Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications, Third Edition, ed. by Jacko, J., Published by Taylor & Francis. To appear. [PDF of author's manuscript - not final]

This is an extensive revision of the 2007 and 2002 editions of my book chapter, and with some heavy weight-lifting from my new co-author Daniel Wigdor, it treats direct-touch input devices and techniques in much more depth. Lots of great new stuff. The book will be out in early 2012 or so from Taylor & Francis – keep an eye out for it!

Classic AlpineInker Post #1: The Microsoft Research Codex

My old blog, the AlpineInker, is currently read-only (I can’t even access the blog stats any more) and it will go away completely by the end of the year, but there’s still a number of posts there that are near and dear to my heart, and which I occasionally like to direct people to, so I figured why not get this blog on its feet by moving some of the real classics over here.

This particular post was probably one of the most fun blogs to write that I ever put together, and the project was a blast. Since I did this project, OQO went bankrupt and the Model 02 fell into the dustbin of history with it, the Courier came and went like a glint in the eye of the girl who got away, and e-readers and slates have exploded and are on the verge of toppling traditional publishing like a loose boulder teetering on the brink of a nine thousand foot cliff.

But I’m still here and plugging away on my sane and not-so-sane visions of the near future, looking for that next idea that’s oh-so-obvious in retrospect. Sometimes they come easy, sometimes they’re like pulling a loose molar from your jaw with no anesthetic. And I ain’t never been to no dental school, folks, although I did have the fine honor of working with some incredibly gifted and hard-working neurosurgeons back when I was in grad school.

So I’ve worked side-by side with brain surgeons and with Turing award winners and I figure all I need to do is come up with some zany project involving rocket scientists and then I should be about set to call it a wild ride of a career.

I hear NASA might be looking for the next great thing too now that the Space Shuttle is history, so maybe there is hope for me yet on that front.

As for the Codex. Since we’re on WordPress here, I can even enter the 21st century and embed a YouTube video right in my post without pulling yet another molar by hand.  Below I’ve linked to a copy of my Codex Video that someone pirated and put up on YouTube on my behalf violating every law of copyright known to man, but heck, once something’s on the ‘net and everyone’s hyperlinks point to it, having them take it down is just counterproductive, so I just went with it. The video has almost 100,000 views so I guess someone must have checked it out. (This video, by the way, was one of the most difficult to shoot that I ever did because at the time we shot it the software kept crashing and the screens were dim and had a lot of glare and, and, and… so a belated apology that it looks a bit clunky in the video, but the thing was pretty damn cool to use and I wish I had the time and energy to resuscitate the software and do more with it).

Anyway, enough of my blathering. Here’s the Classic AlpineInker Post #1, The Microsoft Research Codex:

The Microsoft Research Codex: Are Dual Screens the Future of Mobile Devices?

Never buy one of anything. That’s advice you should stand by when you’re buying unusual gadgets. The advice was good when Randy Pausch offered it to me some 15 years ago, and it’s still good now.

Of course, with 18 month old twin girls at home, this has become second nature to me. Two boxes of diapers. Two gallons of milk. Two Elmo plush dolls.

Oh, and yes, of course. Two screens for my tablet computer.

Continue reading

Paper: Grips and Gestures on a Multi-Touch Pen

Multi-Touch PenSong, H., Benko, H., Guimbretiere, F., Izadi, S., Cao, X., Hinckley, K., Grips and Gestures on a Multi-Touch Pen, In Proc. CHI 2011 Conf. on Human Factors in Computing Systems. [PDF] [video .WMV]

Paper: Pen + Touch = New Tools

Pen + Touch = New ToolsHinckley, K., Yatani, K., Pahud, M., Coddington, N., Rodenhouse, J., Wilson, A., Benko, H., Buxton, B., Pen + Touch = New Tools. In Proc. UIST 2010  Symposium on User interface Software and Technology, New York, NY, pp. 27-36. [PDF] [video .WMV]

Watch Pen + Touch = New Tools on YouTube

Paper: Design and Evaluation of Interaction Models for Multi-touch Mice

Multi-touch MouseBenko, H., Izadi, S., Wilson, A. D., Cao, X., Rosenfeld, D., Hinckley, K., Design and Evaluation of Interaction Models for Multi-touch Mice. Proc. Graphics interface 2010, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31 – June 02, 2010, pp. 253-260. [PDF] [video .WMV]

Paper: Direct Display Interaction via Simultaneous Pen + Multi-touch Input

Simultaneous Pen + TouchHinckley, K., Pahud, M., Buxton, B., Direct Display Interaction via Simultaneous Pen + Multi-touch Input.  In Society for Information Display (SID) Symposium Digest of Technical Papers, May 2010, Volume 41(1), Session 38, pp. 537-540. [PDF]

This paper had no accompanying video, but you can see the system in action in this YouTube video:

Watch Simultaneous Pen + Touch video on YouTube