Michael F. Mohageg, Ph.D.
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Post-PC products are computer-enhanced, electronic devices dedicated to a very restricted set of tasks. Typically, these devices are also characterized by what they are not: Unlike personal computers (PCs) they are not generic computing platforms, tend not to have standard PC input and output devices (mouse, keyboard, CRT), and are intended for a broader user population than PCs. The most common post-PC devices are "Information Appliances," such as TV set- top boxes (STB), Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), Internet-enabled screen phones, and pagers. The concept of information appliances is borrowed from the traditional notion of an appliance. It is a device that performs only a few tasks, but does them well, efficiently, and with little hardship or confusion for the user. For instance, refrigerators are bought solely for the purpose of keeping items either cool or frozen; it does little else other than blend aesthetically with the kitchen. A dishwasher washes dishes. A microwave oven has the task of heating food. Information appliances apply this notion of a dedicated device to computing technology, with the purpose of creating small, easy-to-use, low cost devices that perform only a few tasks. I will use information appliances as the running example for this paper.
Information appliances (post-PC Uls) need user interface solutions different from those of a PC for several reasons. The two most important are: 1) the target users, and 2) the nature of information appliances.
Information appliances are intended for a wider user population than PC users. These users may have no computer experience, so human interface metaphors and models borrowed from desktop environments may not be appropriate. Popup menus, scroll bars, drag and drop, or the computer desktop may be quite