07 Nov 2012

Visual future: The evolution of the GUI

What advances are we seeing with graphical user interfaces? And what will the GUI of the future look like? It’s amazing to think that even 20 years ago many of us were still looking at text-based, MS-DOS screens. It wasn’t until the 1990s that graphical user interfaces exploded in popularity, thanks to Windows 3.0. Now mobile GUIs have rewritten the rules again. Swipe, flick, pinch and other gestures have seen mice put to one side as desktops embrace multi-gesture touchpads. Window 8 is set to be the biggest game changing GUI for years as it is riding two key waves: the influence of mobile GUIs, and the explosion of touch-screens. 1. Start Button We’ve used the Windows Start button in Windows 98, ME, XP and 7 all day, every day. It is now 15 years old and has one clear issue: it’s not big enough to hold all the information we need. Now, Windows 8 delivers an entire new Start Button experience, a whole screen with Live Tiles that you can customise. 2. Touchscreen Not only is Windows 8 touchscreen capable, it is touchscreen-inspired. Its colourful tiles are as accessible with a fingertip as with a mouse click. It solves the issue of needing a needle-point precise stylus – or ultra-thin fingertips – to access menus. 3. Consistency How much time and brain power do we waste moving between operating systems, such as moving from Windows 7 on a desktop, to an iOS-based tablet, and then to a phone with an even more confusing range of operating systems? What is the solution? A common GUI across all mediums – exactly what Window 8 sets out to deliver. Just Window dressing? But do we really need all these bells and whistles? The answer is yes. GUIs are hugely important for productivity. Consider how hard it was to do a mail merge in Word 2003 compared to now. This GUI change meant that with no training, or very little, a complicated process became easy. This is all about GUI’s raising productivity. Intelligent GUI design has also improved ergonomics. Extensive research has been done on eye, mouse and hand movement. This has resulted in intuitive GUIs where the GUI starts to guess what you need and move it to the best location. As the GUI accepts more styles of input we should see less static posture and static hand movements which will result in a reduce in repetitive strain injury. Ultimately, it will be up to the public to decide which features work best and what drives their purchase decisions. It may be that having the latest branded smartphone is more important than a specific GUI or staying with what we are used to. An exciting future GUIs will continue to become more interactive and ergonomic. Soon, rather than touch or multi touch, it could be no touch: just wave your hand in the air. Motion sensing input devices are already used in video gaming, and Microsoft already has Kinect for Windows projects with companies such as Citibank, Nissan and Coca-Cola involved in the testing and adoption. 3D is another possibility as graphics power continues to increase. Ubiquitous cameras and augmented reality applications will also be drivers for this. It has taken just two decades to move from simple windows and icons to dynamic, intelligent, interactive, customisable animated interfaces. With continued research into how we use everyday items and how we connect with the world, future GUIs will make all our leisure and work lives easier. Imagine that when you arrive home, the GUI recognises that it is you. – Turns on your favourite show – Puts up your social calendar for the evening – Reminds you of call backs – The fridge moves your favourite drink to the front – It looks and sees how busy your day has been, and puts a takeaway menu up on screen What a great future it will be. Do you look forward to waving at your screen rather than clicking a mouse? What makes a great GUI for you? Robert Tinning is Brennan IT’s National Sales Manager – Hardware & Software Licensing