Working in the office of tomorrow

I didn’t call this the “office of the future” since this is closer than some may imagine.

I have mentioned a speech many years ago the way we will interface with computers in the future. It appears that that “future” is just around the corner.

A few observations first. When working from home, how many times do you find that you step away from your desk and work in the kitchen standing up? Maybe not the kitchen, I’m really talking about the action of working standing up many offices are starting to offer their employees the ability to raise their desks to work standing. More on this later.

Apple pulled a patent a short while after the introduction of the Touch. It involved on screen actions, like shortcuts, that would replace mechanical buttons. Many have attempted this with a “mouse” arrow like screen icon to mimic the mouse interaction, this is a fail. The OS needs to step beyond how we interact with our computers now.

This week, the “Lion” OS, newest version of OSX, was released from Apple. It presents a different interaction with the computer where there is no scroll bars and actions are representative of the physical world. You do not scroll down a page, instead you move the page up to view what is off the screen below. If you have an iPad, you are used to most of the actions. Except, they took it one step further, finger action shortcuts. If you want to get to a ‘launcher’ of software on your computer, place three fingers and your thumb on the trackpad, open slightly then pinch like your picking something up. With this action on the desktop computer, you have removed the need to use keyboard shortcuts or click on a applications folder. Like anything new, there are negatives for some people, they don’t want to take their hands off the keyboard to do multi finger trackpad actions.

Let’s take a big jump here, but not a leap. What do you need your keyboard for? Typing long documents of course. Why do you need long documents? If you believe the many books and what appears to be Apple direction with their Apple brand software, you can tell a story with little text and a few images. As a challenge to myself, watch here in the near future for a representation of this post with fewer words…

If you were only needing to do a few descriptive words amongst images on a page, do you still need a full hardware keyboard? You could tap out a few words with a on-screen keyboard. You can do flow charts, spreadsheets, short documents and presentations with just the software keyboard. Long documents, legal come to mind, will still need a physical keyboard otherwise too much time is spent fixing mis-typing. With on-screen gestures supported on a tablet, navigation is possible without a mouse too.

So, the office of tomorrow, iPads on sturdy stands. A tall stool is available, and a few keyboards can be checked out for special circumstances. No more cube or flat desks for papers. To make this work, you will need to be using the currently available cloud storage and across device document sharing. The full multi finger navigation isn’t on the iPad with iOS4, but could show up late this year with iOS5.

This is actually being typed on an iPad on a plane. As it approaches the maximum length you would want to produce with this set up, I will part out how the world will work with conference room meetings using this iPad on a stand approach in another post. Yes, people can write more/longer documents on an iPad, I’m only representing that for an full office with this set up you would want to think through how best to keep documents shorter for maximum human creativity and output.

Update: five minutes after posting, I was hit with a few questions. While Minority Report like big screen full arm gestures will happen, the interface isn’t there yet. If doing it will mean a pointer on the screen like a mouse, that is not success. And, voice recognition is getting pretty good these days, but your not going to have 10 people working in an office all talking out loud.

Buy and Sell, Today and Tomorrow

How many times do you change your mind about buying something around how  you can pay for it? How easy is it to buy things in a store compared to online? Do you feel safe handing over your credit card information? Does paying options tie into your gift buying decisions?

I’m going to skip the stories and the ‘how I got here’ discussion today. This post is straight to how things have to change.

Amazon is doing record numbers of Kindle and Kindle book sales. Many of my friends jumped onto the Kindle wagon and those that have not can view Kindle books on their iPads and desktop computers. With eBooks becoming so popular, it means that Amazon now makes money on every reader of that book. Gone are the days of reading a book and then handing it onto others to enjoy. The writing is on the wall that the price of Kindle eBooks will be slowly rising up to the level of print books. If that is the case, can I get a discount on a book I want to ‘share’/buy for someone else? At least down to the eBook pricing of today. Of course, that would mean that I could buy a eBook for someone else and ‘send’ it to them. I hadn’t noticed till I tried to buy a book for my sister in-law that there was no way to give her info so the purchased book appeared on her Kindle. I guess I wont be giving books as gifts anymore since my friends use Kindles and wouldn’t want a print book but I have no way of buying a book for them outside of a dollar amount gift certificate.

Since I’m in the mood for buying. You may remember my earlier post about the yesteryear days of PayPal on the Palm. I could beam money to a store cash register via IR rather than handing over cash. The problem, the store had to buy IR ports, just a couple bucks, but they never did it.

Now, the iPhone PayPal app includes ‘Bump’ technology. Will I soon be able to Bump my iPhone to a cash register at the store to pay? While a cash register doesn’t move much, they aren’t connected up to the Internet… generally. So, there is no geo location associated to know the payment send and receive are next to each other. Again, the best solution will be an add on item, much like the card swipe. To make me feel better that the transaction is for the one time and is only for what I wanted to pay for, the store’s device should give me a number that I put into my PayPal ‘Bump’ app. An extra step from just bumping the two, and many folks buying beer at the Gas Station wont care. For those making a 50 dollar purchase at the local grocery store or a couple hundred at the local clothier, they will take the extra effort for peace of mind. No more paper receipts floating around the store, no more credit card magnetic strip getting copied.

When I think of rolling out a system like this around the world it seems like a huge task. But then, think back when someone said we could have a personal transportation device, all we needed was fuel distribution facilities on every corner.

Rethinking User Interfaces with Augmented Reality

A few years ago, a Apple OS technician mentioned that we needed to rethink the way we think about organizing our electronic lives. The talk wasn’t about Cloud Computing centrally located mass storage, it was about how we interact with the information. There is so much info available to us, we need to think about how we find and access that info.

The speech had spoken to stepping ‘through’ windows and folders rather than opening. This immediately made me think of a software add-on from Aaron back in the Mac OS 8 days. It allowed us to tap and hold on a folder that would open on top of the current folder like we were stepping through the folders – deeper and deeper, each opening allowed access to open a folder the next level down. Releasing the mouse left that folder open. File movement was also possible using this method by click, drag, hold over a folder. Drilling down to the final location.

The phrase I used ‘Drilling down’ makes me think that this is not the future of reaching ‘through’ our file management. It has been said that most of the old file folder thinkers might have a issue jumping into this sort of information management – so maybe I’m just not getting it yet.

Apple’s new Snow Leopard has introduced a new way of better managing open windows and app screen. You can now have many open files (Word, Web sites, images…) and hide them down in the ‘Doc’ inside of the application’s icon. Clicking on the Application now presents you with all of the files as images side by side on the screen to jump to easily. This takes us away from always having to select your Web browser and you get many browser windows show on the screen, one on top of the other that requires you to cycle through to get to the page you needed to reference.

Microsoft is attempting a different direction where there is no folders within folders. Instead, all files are stored in a giant area and you access via search and keywords. Having played for years with finding files from text within them or doing a good enough job of keywording for later reference has been a big ‘fail’ for me. I still use a pad and pen a lot, each of those pages are scanned and dated for later reference. My handwriting, or actually printing, isn’t clean enough for OCR. As well I use a lot of arrows and quick scribbled pictures to remember better. These do not allow a program to automatically know I’m looking for that page later. Instead, I have to keyword the page… will I ever get all the keywords each of those pages are important to? Nah. As well, info on a page may be thought of differently later as the conversation changes and it important in a different way.

Finally, we have a ‘name’ to one rethink of data display: Augmented Reality (Wikipedia says: “A term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality”).

While the general idea of interactive TV shows where your watching a sporting event and you can click on the players for more info/stats isn’t quite there yet. One place multiple companies have jumped onto is navigation. When GPS units were first introduced, they were electronic paper maps, flat. Then they started to change a bit to become more 3D so it looked like you were traveling down a road. The latest versions have the road and signs you expect to see with a moving arrow just ahead of you so you know where and when to take the path the device recommends. These images are still lower resolution artist creations, you can imagine Google’s Street View group is working hard to get their real images into one of the mobile GPS directions app providers.

Getting back to providing information in our new 3D world – one developer has created an Augmented Reality iPhone app.. With RobotVision, you are looking at the world through the devices camera so you see the real world, not a drawing or previously photographed version. RobotVision overlays information on the screen. Currently, you can choose to see a variety of different business types. Stand on the street corner and turn around 360 degrees to see what is down the road from where you stand. There is also the feature of seeing what Twitter person or Flickr images uploaded in the area are. Just tap to get more info… let your imagination really go with this. Tie your computer’s UI to where you are, previously created docs in the area or from words found within the documents. You wont be searching at all, everything is presented to you as an option – basically assisting you with more info before you thought to look for it.