In conversation with Phil McKinney on NUI

26 08 2009

Phil McKinney and Anne in the Halo Room

2 weeks ago I was invited to participate in a discussion with HP‘s CTO, Phil McKinney, about Natural User Interfaces(NUI). As Phil is a very busy person, the discussion was held via HP’s cutting-edge video conference technology, Halo. Why cutting edge? It is because I felt as though Phil was sitting on the same meeting table as me in real-time. I could even see what Phil was sketching on a paper clearly.

Richness vs Reach/Mobility

Above, we see a sketch that Phil drew to start off his discussion. This is a graph showing the state of technology right now in the balance between Richness (user experience, high definition, sound quality, etc) and Reach/Mobility (reaching out and making technology available to more markets). For example, devices like televisions are high in Richness but low in Reach/Mobility.

The line slanting downwards shows the state of technology for the various products at the moment. Unfortunately, there is a void in the middle of products that are high in mobility with average richness. Not many products are able to balance this well while maintaining usability. There is also the “Laws of Physics” that is preventing technologies like a 75″ TV fitting into your pocket.

The challenge faced by most technology players right now is:
1) Filling the void
2) Getting off and above the line

HP’s strategy for achieving (2) is by exploiting Touch technology to increase the Reach of PCs to untapped markets. Currently, 80% of the market has never owned a PC due to literacy barriers. Another reason for this is the intimidation with using a keyboard and mouse. Some of us might find it difficult to understand why using a mouse/keyboard may be intimidating but if you look at it, there are people around us even in developed nations (e.g: the elder generation) who are afraid of performing mouse clicks in fear of what unintended actions may be triggered on the PC.

Why Touch?
Apart from there being non-gimmicky uses for Touch technology, it is a form of interaction which we have been using in our everyday lives – for example, the ATM machine. The learning curve for Touch technology is also less steep as users has one lesser step of learning how to use a new device.

Challenges faced with Touch
HP’s motivation for using Touch is to drive the ease of use of new technologies by designing devices that adopt to users. The very first question that popped into my head was:

“There are so many different type of uses around the world with different levels of literacy. Wouldn’t HP have to design many different devices for different communities?”

Sharings from the lab
Phil shared some research findings in HP’s labs. They tested touch with 2700 users in homes of mixed literacy and discovered that people touch devices differently based on where they grew up.

Here are some of the examples Phil mentioned:
– Some used a whole hand, their thumb or items like an eraser and pencil
– Pulling both sides of an image to enlarge an image
– Grabbing one corner to enlarge the image
– When grabbing one corner and realizing the image follows the hand, the user shakes his hand rigorously as though he was trying to shake it off

From all this research they were able to map out which set of gestures were natural for the different types of users. Based on the first few gestures used by the user, the computer will be able to tell which set of gestures to load for the rest of the user’s interactions. A similar analogy would be how users would select a language on the computer before your mobile phone loads up in the appropriate language.

Do note that this is just for research and not all gesture sets will be going into the final product.

Moving into emerging markets
Lastly, I was wondering how HP plans to break into emerging markets where there are a large number of non-PC owners. Due to cost and infrastructure issues, current PCs are too expensive for people to own in these countries. E.g: In Africa, the cost of one month of broadband is equal to 14 months of their salary).

Instead of focusing on bringing existing PCs into emerging markets, HP is focusing on building basic PCs with the right technologies to meet their needs. They are currently experimenting with concept PCs in some of these markets.

For a later post..
Phil did send me quite a bit of information on their work on emerging markets and also segments of the community with special needs. However, as this post is getting lengthy, I will keep it for another day. 🙂

Concluding words
From the session, I could tell that most of the players in the PC market are jumping into the bandwagon of natural user interfaces. There are lots of other cool technologies HP is experimenting with out there like gaze, motion and tactile feedback. However, most of these are still just “gimmick”s and not at a stage where it can be integrated into HP’s products. HP went with Touch as it is found to be the most practical and usable of them all.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what technologies will come into our computers 5 years down the road! (Maybe some cool holography/Augmented Reality stuff). On the other hand, I’m glad that we are not flooded with useless tech filled with only “gimmicks” for novelty. 😀

P.S: Oh yes! Before I forget, many thanks to the Amelia and Calvin from Waggener Edstrom for giving me this opportunity to be in a discussion with Phil. 😀


WE, FYP, Startup and Halo :D

12 08 2009

Alright! After one month+ of not writing, I’m sure I need to give you guys an explanation for my disappearance on what I’ve been up to. To avoid this article becoming length and boring, I’ll do very very quick point forms.

1) Internship at Waggener Edstrom ends

I spent my term break interning at Waggener Edstrom’s Studio D where I was doing mostly Social Media Marketing and Digital PR. For those of you who are unfamiliar with buzz words, it is planning and conceptualizing digital campaigns for clients to tell the right stories and experiences to the customers. In more simple terms, I have a license to Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter all day long 😀

It was a very interesting experience for me because my life activities have been turned over. What do I mean by turned over?

In the past:
During work: Code and develop stuff
After work: Read up on marketing strategies, plan campaigns and brainstorm creative ideas for own projects

At WE:
During work: Read up on marketing strategies, plan campaigns and brainstorm of creative ideas for clients
After work: Code and build my own fun stuff 😀

…and I have to admit I really like the switch in environment. A great company that knows how to recognize and value great talents 🙂

Would really like to thank Melvin for pulling me into the company and exposing me to the PR industry.

The Studio D team and Jen Houston during her visit to WE Singapore
For more personal pictures with the team, check my Facebook ^_~


2) Final Year Project and Startup
It is official now! After a few weeks of indecisiveness and running through various phases of paperwork, I will be working on my own proposed Final Year Project at NUS. I know it is quite a huge risk to take but I believe it is worth a try.

Although the focus still needs refinement, it’ll be about measuring the diffusion of “Word of Mouth” marketing both quantitative and qualitatively on Social Networks. My team and I will be building a youth retail site with an environment that would trigger “Word of Mouth” marketing (hopefully). We will then measure the flow of information about products/brands from one user to another and how recipients act on this information. The platforms we plan to integrate with the site are Facebook and Twitter. This retail site will also be the startup I’m currently working on.

Will update as more things are finalized ^_~.

3) Halo Session with HP’s CTO – Phil McKinney
This Friday I’ll be waking up in the wee hours of the morning (okay its not that bad! just really early for a morning person like me) to attend a video conference at HP’s office with HP’s CTO, Phil McKinney. It will be a roundtable discussion using HP’s Halo technology .

I’m really excited about this event as the topic we will be discussing is Natural User Interfaces! What is Natural User Interfaces (NUI)? In short, it is interfaces that are easy to learn through experience. To put it simply, they are interfaces designed so well that you don’t have to read the manual to learn how to use the device. Unfortunately the only experience I have with NUI is my little, amateur-ish, out of the garage interactive kitchen table. Would be really interesting to hear how the pros go about the innovation process. 😀

Alright that’s about it! Feel free to e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, drop comment if there are any questions you would like me to ask during the discussion with Phil. I know some of you are real experts in this area judging from the e-mails I got on the touch table in the past.

Have a good half week! ^_~