From Keyboard to Gesture

Article excerpt

[This is a new column that will appear in the upcoming issues of IT on the changing landscape of search. We welcome search expert and author Stephen E. Arnold who will provide his insights into search, the tools, and the innovation that we will be experiencing in the days ahead.--Ed.]

Search is changing, and quickly. The transition from fingers flipping through a library's card catalog to Texas Instruments' Silent 700 took several centuries. And the shift from keyboard entry on clunky thermal paper dumb terminals to netbooks took 40 years. The jump from keyboards to touchscreens is happening now.

Those who work in the area of human-computer interface and the specialist discipline of haptics (tactile feedback technology) are now changing the way you and I will access information.

The keyboard works well for text entry, but it sets hard boundaries on how queries can be run by limiting the query to text entry. Most computer users today instinctively type words into a search box and expect to see a list of hits.

For other types of information access, the search box is downright clumsy. For example, if I am driving to the airport, I want to know if the parking garage I favor has any spaces available. I can run this query if I pull over, get out my smartphone, log on to the network, navigate to the airport's website, and hunt through the links until I find the parking garage status entry.

The problems with such a traditional 1970s-type of human-computer interaction range from the amount of time the process takes to the fact that it is against the law to pull over in the entrance to a U.S. airport.

Finding a Better Way

The human-computer interface crowd and their haptics pals know there are better ways to present this information. One method is for the mobile device to communicate continuously with a server that knows my location via a GPS signal and has access to information in my personal profile.

The obvious process is to program the computer to know where I am and match my location with the scheduled flight in my profile. The leap is for the system to figure out that I want to know where to park.

I attend quite a few meetings where this type of action chain is assumed to be a "piece of cake" or a "no-brainer," and I'm always reminded that science fiction is entertaining in movies, but the fun fades when reality does not work according to the animation studios' wizardry.

Yahoo! has now demonstrated its innovative Sketch-a-Search service. Watch a video of the app at www.ysmblog.com/blog/2010/03/25/ctia-video-yahoo-sketcha-search-demo.

Describing the interface is tricky, but follow this explanation: Take your finger and outline an area on a map. The Yahoo! system displays information on the screen relative to the area you traced. …