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Your hands on the future
The art of predicting which technology advances will have meaningful impacts on our lives has never been tougher.
We live in an age where, from a technology standpoint, so much of what we can conceive is at least theoretically possible: invisibility shields, spy drones the size of flies, virtual people that seem to be real — all of those have been done already, at least in research labs.
Predicting which technologies will actually roll out of research labs and into our hands requires a grounded view of how society assimilates technology and a recognition that the coolest, most far-fetched concepts rarely beat the small tech advances that make a difference in our lives.
Many years ago, I gave a speech predicting future technology, where I forecast the coming impact of the then announced, but not-yet-released Apple iPhone. Up until that point in history, Apple had no phone product. My prediction, not necessarily visionary or bold, stands out in my mind, because it sparked a reaction.
Both during the speech and after, I was confronted by passionate audience members, pointing out what they thought was the folly of Apple releasing a mobile phone in a world already crowded with too many mobile phone choices.
Of course, the iPhone went on to re-define and extend the possibilities of mobile computing.
Although its advances were noteworthy, they were not breathtaking. They were simply incremental improvements that provided a slightly smoother way of accomplishing what other devices to a large extent were already capable of.
Another incremental advancement that may extend and re-define the way we interact with our devices was recently announced at the Mobile World Congress. CNN, Gizmag and many other tech media reported that Fujitsu demonstrated its prototype Sensor, a haptic sensory tablet.
As you interact with the touchscreen on this tablet, you experience the sensation of raised images and varying surface textures right on the touchscreen. An innovative use of ultrasonic vibrations under the surface is one of the key enabling technologies. This capability allows the user to carry out interactions such as petting an alligator and feeling its skin texture or spinning the knob of a combination safe, while one grasps it in hand, simply by interacting with the screen (both actions were reportedly demonstrated at the show).
Although Fujitsu's efforts are not the first exploration into new ways of tactile interaction, at this point, they seem to be leading the way into the future.
Touchscreens have existed for some time and seem to serve us well. So does this new approach have legs?
If you question whether the world needs this next-step interaction to become even more engaged with a mobile device, remember the lesson of Apple and the iPhone. Sometimes re-inventing the world happens in small ways, as well as big ones.
Alligators lurking on the fringes might hold more clues to the future than they appear to on the surface.