Over the next week or so I'm going to be posting some highlights from the IDC 2009 conference that's happening today and tomorrow in San Jose. The conference has brought together a slew of big-name exhibitors and speakers on display and touch technology.
Today's highlight without a doubt was the keynote talk by Jeff Han of Perceptive Pixel. He talked about some of the graphics and HCI research he did before he hit multitouch demo fame, as well as some of his inspirations. He showed a great clip from an early 80s TV show called Bits and Bytes that featured a young Bill Buxton demonstrating some of his tablet work at the University of Toronto. Buxton was showing touch as a way to control music, and the clip included free-form interaction on a tablet as well as touching through a template that set out some virtual sliders and buttons. Unfortunately I can't find that clip online, but I did find this 1982 clip on Buxton's web site in which he demonstrates what looks like the same system: Templates on Touch Tablets to Support Virtual Devices (Flash video, see also this page which has several other videos from the U of T Input Research Group).
Jeff Han's point in showing this clip was not just to share what inspired him as a kid to pursue computer science as a career. He also wanted to make the point that none of this stuff is really new. He urged the audience not to jump on whatever tech is cool this week, but to be aware of the history and to do the research. Be thoughtful and careful about what you're making. He said one of his fears with the multitouch craze is that the waters will be poisoned by bad and poorly conceived implementations. He said "don't add noise" to the ecosystem by using terms sloppily — like "multitouch".
The importance of being more thoughtful and mindful of prior work are not exactly new to most of us with design, HCI, or CS backgrounds, but the audience here is largely made up of marketing or other business types, I believe, who sometimes tend to get a bit carried away, you might say. I mean no disrespect to my friends in marketing…
(Note also that this is all just my paraphrasing based on some notes, and I seem to be making it sound he was scolding the audience… it wasn't like that. It's possible I've recalled some things incorrectly so please keep that in mind.)
Han also showed some impressive work that Perceptive Pixel has done to create applications for medical visualization and other things in collaboration with academic and industry colleagues. Of course he also showed one of those whizbang dizzy-fast multitouch demo reels (you know where to find them). It was nice to see real, useful applications on big multitouch screens, though.
By the way, Bits and Bytes was a wonderful, goofy show that I too watched as a kid. You can find some clips on YouTube if you search, and some screenshots and background about it here: Bits and Bytes.
I'll post more conference recaps and observations in the days ahead.
Minority Report quote of the day: "It's sort of like Minority Report, I'm afraid." – Brad Gleeson of TargetPath Global, acknowledging the downside of new digital signs that record information about the people who look at them.