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.