iPad as a 3D input device

This video of Karl D. D. Willis’ Beautiful Modeler application highlights an important question about the use of 3D and visual depth in interface design: how can you manipulate 3D objects using 2D input mechanisms?

The first step in Willis’ approach is to abstract the input mechanism from the display device, using a simple interface on the iPad which requires little visual attention and instead focuses the user on the screen of the laptop. Secondly, he combines the 2D surface input of iPad multi-touch gestures with input from the device’s accelerometers as it moves through 3D space.

The result is a hybrid interaction mechanism that seems natural, almost as if the user is grasping the object itself.

The link between 3D displays and input mechanisms is emerging as a key question in MEX Pathway #4, which looks at the future for visual depth in mobile interfaces. This will be 1 of 6 Pathway topics at the next MEX in London on 30 Nov – 01 Dec 2010.

Although mobile devices tend to have more sensors capable of simulating 3D input, such as accelerometers, the relatively small size of their displays makes it difficult to see what’s happening on the screen if the device is being waved around to provide input. Other input options might include pressure sensitive displays (a company called Power2B offers technology for this) or using separate, wirelessly linked control mechanisms (a technique pioneered in mobile by Zeemote, although originally for 2D gaming).

I’d love to hear from anyone working in this area or who has seen other examples of 3D in mobile devices – feel free to add a comment below or get in touch via Twitter or email.

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