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Russ posted an interesting entry on 'anticonvergence', the idea that specialized devices will actually be more important than integrated devices. This is the idea that the spaces design is based on, with its current (and more importantly, future) synchronization capabilities.

Although I didn't have a name for it, I first became interested in this idea around the time at was working at IBM Research designing a new portable device. UI researchers have expected this kind of separation between devices for a long time, and for a good reason that can be summed up in one word: affordances.

As I mentioned earlier affordances are natural extensions for functions on a given system; for example an affordance for the 'open/close" function in a door is the handle, it naturally (through training and our physical disposition) makes us want to grab it, and it moves only in the direction in which the function is "activated" ie, to open the door when it's closed, and viceversa. (By the way, Don Norman's book, The design of everyday things which I also read when at IBM, is an incredibly good introduction to many deep issues in design and in particular to the idea of affordances and specialized user interfaces).

The problem with affordances is that they work best when they are little (if at all) 'overloaded' that is, when they represent a single function in the system. When an affordance has to match two different functions it becomes confusing and, as more functions are piled up, diffidult to operate. One only has to take a look at current Microsoft product to see how overloading of an affordance can lead to disastrous results. (This is one of the reasons why I try to keep the UI of spaces clean and simple.)

For example, people that have been working for years on designs for intelligent homes never, ever create "control centers" for the different things that have to be controlled, there are always many user interfaces spread throughout the house, in the kitchen (fridge door, oven, etc), in the living room (TV, media center), in rooms, and so on. 'Entertainment' devices such as cameras or MP3s are really good at what they do and while it makes sense to have some limited cross-functionality (say, a simple camera in a PC) you'll never beat the 'hardware UI' of a camera with a cell phone. It's simply a matter of ergonomics.

That said, there are some functions that definitely make a lot of sense for integration, in particular PDA-cellphone functions. But more integration than that is overkill and unnecessary. Eventually, single-purpose devices like the Blackberry will eventually win.

It can be summed up in one phrase: To each task its device, and all of them seamlessly and transparently connected.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 7 2003 at 7:49 PM

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