Canonical and the Ubuntu folks have taken a lot of risks in the Unity interface that ships with Ubuntu Linux. One of the things that the company has been leading towards is the Head-Up Display (HUD), a new tool for controlling applications that moves away from the traditional menu interface that debuted decades ago with the Xerox PARC GUI.
Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth blogged about the new interface design today, with a description, screenshot and a video demonstrating the use of HUD.
What’s wrong with the current method of doing things? Shuttleworth says:
When they get nested, navigating the tree can become fragile. They require you to read a lot when you probably already know what you want. They are more difficult to use from the keyboard than they should be, since they generally require you to remember something special (hotkeys) or use a very limited subset of the keyboard (arrow navigation). They force developers to make often arbitrary choices about the menu tree (“should Preferences be in Edit or in Tools or in Options?”), and then they force users to make equally arbitrary effort to memorise and navigate that tree.
Instead of a nested tree of options, users will have a “vocabulary UI” that’s “closer to the way users think” according to Shuttleworth.
The Canonical folks have been re-thinking the standard desktop layout for some time, and part of that has been trying to replace the application window menus with a global menu similar to the one in Mac OS X. According to Shuttleworth, that’s all been leading up to HUD. “The HUD concept has been the driver for all the work we’ve done in unifying menu systems across Gtk, Qt and other toolkit apps in the past two years. So far, that’s shown up as the global menu. In 12.04, it also gives us the first cut of the HUD.”
The Apple Lisa, image from Graphical User Interface Gallery
Here’s how the HUD works. Instead of having the traditional “File,” “Edit,” “View” menus (and so on) users will pull down a menu to type in commands. So if I want to change preferences I’d start typing “pref” and (in theory) the HUD will suggest commands that match that.
Shuttleworth says that the HUD would support fuzzy matching so users could be able to type “settings” and still get “preferences” and so forth. Shuttleworth even says that it will learn what commands users use most often, so it can prioritize commands that are used more frequently.
Open The Pod Bay Doors HAL… Er, HUD
But that’s not all. Shuttleworth says that the HUD will tie into system functions as well as application specific ones. So users should be able to use The HUD to do things like manage IM status and so forth.
Ultimately, and this probably ties into Canonical’s hopes and dreams for using Ubuntu to power TVs, the HUD could be voice-driven. The menu interface that relies heavily on pointer-driven activity is clunky for a television. Being able to talk to your TV to change channels, set up recordings and whatnot would be a big improvement over navigating menus.
Shuttleworth says that Canonical wants “to make it easy to talk to any application, and for any application to respond to your voice. The full integration of voice into applications will take some time. We can start by mapping voice onto the existing menu structures of your apps. And it will only get better from there.”
Change We Can Believe In?
As we all know, users love change. (Where’s that sarcasm font when you need it?) But strong ideas backed by equally strong implementations can win out. Looking at the video provided by Canonical and the description of the HUD, it seems like a usable alternative to existing application menus.
The main objection to the HUD is discoverability. I can easily adapt to HUD for functions that I know are supported by an application, but what about functions I’m unaware of? You can explore the menus for an application and find new (to you) features, but the HUD doesn’t support that. For now, Shuttleworth says that the traditional menus will still be around – but they still need to solve the discoverability problem.
If you’re eager to test it, it’s available in an add-on repository that works with Ubuntu’s 12.04 pre-releases. If all goes well, this will land in Ubuntu 12.04 and users will have their hands on it right away.
What do you think? Is the HUD the way of the future? Should Ubuntu (and other desktops) keep the menu?
Nick Benton and Neel Krishnaswami, ICFP’11, A Semantic Model for Graphical User Interfaces:
We give a denotational model for graphical user interface (GUI) programming using the Cartesian closed category of ultrametric spaces. [..] We capture the arbitrariness of user input [..] [by a nondeterminism] “powerspace” monad.
Algebras for the powerspace monad yield a model of intuitionistic linear logic, which we exploit in the definition of a mixed linear/non-linear domain-specific language for writing GUI programs. The non-linear part of the language is used for writing reactive stream-processing functions whilst the linear sublanguage naturally captures the generativity and usage constraints on the various linear objects in GUIs, such as the elements of a DOM or scene graph.
We have implemented this DSL as an extension to OCaml, and give examples demonstrating that programs in this style can be short and readable.
This is an application of their (more squiggly) LICS’11 submission, Ultrametric Semantics of Reactive Programs. In both these cases, I find appealing the fact the semantic model led to a type system and a language that was tricky to find.
Steve Jobs’ attention to the finest of details is well known throughout the tech world, the latest testament to that is Google VP Vic Gundotra’s recollection of his phone call with Jobs in 2008 about an imperfection in the Google logo on the iPhone when pinned to the homescreen.
Another example of Jobs’ immense attention to the finer aspects of product design and everything else is Apple’s patents, 313Â out of which list Jobs as an inventor.
These patents cover a broad range of products including Desktop Computers, iPods, iOS devices, product packaging, powerÂ adaptorsÂ and even the glass staircases you would find in Apple stores.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates has 9 patents to his name while Google’s Larry and Sergey have a dozen patents, which is nowhere near Steve’s 313.
Some of the filings date back to the 1980s, when Apple was a relatively young company, which was about to challenge the might of IBM, and in the future a lot of other companies as well. We have a look at some of Jobs’ most remarkable patent applications, some of which made their way into the consumer market while some stay buried inside Apple’s offices.
Jobs’ First Patent Filing – The Design For A Personal Computer
This patent covers the design of the Apple I, the company’s first product which was hand built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, whichÂ soldÂ for $666.66 because Woz liked repeating digits. The patent claim reads “The ornamental design for a personal computer, substantially as shown”. To get an idea of how complicated the process of getting the Apple-I to work as compared to present day computers was, have a look at the Apple-I manualÂ (PDF link), which also features the earliest Apple logo with Newton sitting under an Apple tree.
This device, which was unshered in by the famous “1984″ commercial, was the first successful computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface. The patent however doesn’t say anything about the GUI, it instead talks about the all-in-one design of the computer which can be found even in today’s iMac models.
This patent was filed on behalf of NeXT Computer Inc., which later went on to merge with Apple. The patent, filed in 1991, describesÂ theÂ concept of a dock found in modern day operating systems like OS X and iOS. Although the idea of a dock may seem trivial right now, twenty years ago it wasn’t all that common. The patent has various flowcharts describing different tasks like launching applications, rearranging icons and adding new applications to the dock.
Steve Jobs’ desire forÂ perfectionÂ showed not just in software but even in accessory design. The iPad 2 smart cover, USB cables and power adapters are all examples of excellent design. (In some cases however the priority given to design makes the product more vulnerable to wear and tear, for example iPhone and iPod cables.)
Apple has multiple power adapter patents to its credit, each of which illustrate a different kind of design. The first patent filing showed a circular adapter, which later changed into a rectangular avatar and finally became the roundrect Magsafe adapters we all know of.
This was Jobs’ way ofÂ revolutionising the music industry. First a device, then a digital store both with a large number of users forced music companies to sell their songs for a dollar resulting in a win for customers. Steve’s name appears on 85 iPod patents, most of them dealing with the design of the product.
A number of patents filed in 2005 give us a glimpse into the iPhone’s birth stages. The patent applications nowhere explicitly mention the iPhone, but familiar UI elements like table views, battery indicators and page indicators make an appearance in the images. One of these filings also reveal that at one point of time Apple envisioned an iPod clickwheel style of phone as well.
iPhone UI And Hardware Design
Numerous iPhone patents have been filed by Apple since its launch, perhaps foreseeing that it would have to battle out other hardware manufacturers in the future. An interesting image found in one of these patents, embedded above shows a trial option in a mockup of the AppStore.
Like Apple’s products, its stores have beenÂ constantÂ subjects of admiration. Turns out the glass staircases found in many Apple Stores has also been patented, with one of its inventors being Jobs himself.
Jobs has been named an inventor in more than 300 other patents pertaining to iPod headsets, packaging, laptops, displays and keyboards. While products like the “Clickwheel phone” didn’t hit the shelves, many of these inventions were and still are critical to Apple’s success. As New York Times points out,Â Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design guru, shares more than 200 patents with Jobs hinting that Steve and Ive share the same designÂ instincts.
The New York Times has a nice interactive feature on Steve’s patents, hit the source link to have a look at it.
Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Adam Bosworth, co-founder of Keas, a startup that turns staying healthy into a game. Previously, he spearheaded Google Health, was chief architect at BEA Systems, and one of the fathers of XML.
In the tech industry, it is usually bad to be over 30. I’m 55. But there is one advantage to age, and that’s perspective. I witnessed the deep change that PCs brought, enabling technically skilled people to access computing power, call it tens of millions of people. Next was the Graphical User Interface (GUI) which brought productivity applications to most knowledge workers, call it hundreds of millions of people. Then the Web and mobile phones brought access to anyone and any information anywhere at any time, call it billions of people.
I predict that the next inflection point won’t be about numbers of users. It will be about engagement.
The tech industry has a neologism: “Gamification.” Inside this awkward term are three profound truths:
- Social games change engagement in deep and dramatic ways. If you want to get people to do something that they might not otherwise do—such as plan for retirement, study for exams, learn something new, get healthier or pick a school for their kids—make it a social game. You will see engagement rates change from a mere 5% to 70% or more, and people will sustain those rates week after week after week. Why? Because games are fun and appeal to the primitive brain in all of us that wants constant rewards, social recognition and adventure.
- Gamification will accelerate the movement from physical to online solutions. Already, we read about vanishing shopping malls being replaced by online shopping, but as websites that sell goods and services become games rather than content sites (and this is already happening), the trend away from buying at bricks-and-mortar stores will accelerate dramatically unless we can make shopping more fun—because as Groupon has already demonstrated, people like this juxtaposition of shopping and games.
- Mobile will finally take its place as king, a position to which it has rapidly been ascending the last several years. Japan provided early evidence of this (watch any group of people there riding the train), but social games lend themselves to this form factor and this form factor is location-aware and constantly with you. We will see the end of PCs within a decade. They will be replaced by mobile devices, including tablet devices.
We used to teach information design. Then we taught UI design and UI interaction. But now it will be game mechanics. Within two years (if not already), lack of understanding appointment mechanics, game mechanics and leveling will be as crippling to someone who aspires to design online solutions as it is today for someone who doesn’t understand HTML and CSS and AJAX and JQuery.
For the old world, it’s game over.
Photo credit: Daniela Hartmann
Source: Web Of Games