Can an interface age?

What if the user interface grew old with the customer? Imagine receiving a mobile device in your first lesson at school, aged 5, and that device staying with you for entire educational career. As your learning evolved, so too would the interface, revealing new lessons and layers of complexity as your education progressed.

In the first year, it would focus primarily on learning through entertainment and games; by year two or three, the lessons would become more structured, with tuition in maths, reading and writing. Imagine if the touchscreen was sensitive enough to appraise your handwriting skills, correcting mis-formed letters and scoring each pupils efforts.

Of course, the UI could be abstracted from the physical device and stored in a virtual layer, ensuring your data was safe if the device broke or was lost. It would also allow for hardware upgrades as new technology became available.

This was the subject of my discussion with Guillaume Largillier, Pascal Joguet and Gauthier Chastan of Stantum today. Stantum’s business is providing touchscreen controllers which combine the lower costs and pressure-sensing capabilities of resistive touchscreens with the multi-touch capabilities of capacitive displays.

The business grew from Jazzmutant, a company founded by Largillier and Jouget to offer touchscreen musical instruments. Their product – the Lemur – has become a cult success among progressive composers and DJs (Largillier and his colleague Gareth Williams gave a Lemur performance at MEX in December 2009) and now the touchscreen technology which enables it is finding its way into mobile phones.

Stantum has licensed the screen technology to STMicro and Sitronix, who will start shipping the touchscreen controller to display manufacturers in Q2 2010. The combination of resistive and capacitive benefits in a single hybrid approach has considerable utility in phones, tablets and other mobile devices.

However, one of the primary drivers of their business is the creativity of the founders, who continue to challenge the industry to find new ways of utilising touchscreens to build experiences. I suspect this enthusiasm for new device categories and usage scenarios will lead to their first deployments in educational products, media tablets and gaming devices. These are some of the new form factors which are emerging to challenge designers of wirelessly-enabled products and the UI metaphors will need to be significantly different.


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