The emerging trend for interfaces which allow two or more people to interact with the same display at the same time is prompting one of the most significant changes UI practitioners have faced. The accepted convention of designing an interface to be used primarily by a single person at any one time is being swept away by multi-touch technology and the very human desire to work together.
A recent Adaptive Path article by Kim Cullen on the future of digital experiences in the classroom suggests the concept of moveable, touchscreen desks which can be linked together to form progressively larger, collaborative displays for students.
This concept, if extended to mobile devices, could help overcome one of the major barriers to simultaneous, multi-person interactions: size. Put simply, it is difficult for more than 2 or 3 people to work together on even the largest tablet devices – the limitation is not so much the display area, but the physical challenge of multiple people sitting or standing close enough to reach the screen.
By linking several displays together, users can remain close enough to collaborate, but still have enough personal space for it to feel natural.
In the Adaptive Path article, the author suggests the desks would sense when they had been joined and automatically link their displays. A technology already exists to enable this on mobile devices: Bump. Best known for its business card exchange app, Bump also has an API which allows other apps to take advantage of its unique ability to sense the audio signature of two devices touching each other and establish a link between them.
In this scenario, 2 or more tablets could be retro-fitted to link their screens when they were tapped together. NFC could also be an enabler for this, as the chipsets start to rollout across devices.
There is also a degree of overlap with MEX Pathway #2, entitled, ‘Research the implications of supporting more than one screen from a single device’, where speakers include Gianluca Dianese of Toshiba, Jason DaPonte of The Swarm and Greg Taylor of TigerSpike.