A while back, in 2007, I wrote about ‘a lost future’ of touch technology, and the rise of a world full of mobile glowing attention-wells.
“…it’s likely that we’re locked into pursuing very conscious, very gorgeous, deliberate touch interfaces – touch-as-manipulate-objects-on-screen rather than touch-as-manipulate-objects-in-the-world for now.”
It does look very much like we’re living in that world now – where our focus is elsewhere than our immediate surroundings – mainly residing through our fingers, in our tiny, beautiful screens.
Andrew Blum writes about this, amongst other things, in his excellent piece “Local Cities, Global Problems: Jane Jacobs in an Age of Global Change”:
Like a lot of things here, they are deeply connected to other places. Their attention is divided. And, by extension, so is ours. While this feeling is common to all cities over time, cell phones bring the tangible immediacy of the faraway to the street. Helped along by media and the global logistics networks that define our material lives, our moment-to-moment experience of the local has become increasingly global.
Recently, of course, our glowing attention wells have become larger.
We’ve been designing, developing, using and living with iPads in the studio for a while now, and undoubtedly they are fine products despite their drawbacks – but it wasn’t until our friend Tom Coates introduced me to a game called Marble Mixer that I thought they were anything other than the inevitable scaling of an internet-connected screen, and the much-mooted emergence of a tablet form-factor.
It led me to think they might be much more disruptive as magic tables than magic windows.
Marble Mixer is a simple game, well-executed. Where it sings is when you invite friends to play with you.
Each of you occupy a corner of the device, and attempts to flick marbles into the goal-mouth against the clock – dislodging the other’s marbles.
Beautiful. Simple. But also – amazing and transformative!
We’re all playing with a magic surface!
When we’re not concentrating on our marbles, we’re looking each other in the eye – chuckling, tutting and cursing our aim – and each other.
There’s no screen between us, there’s a magic table making us laugh. It’s probably my favourite app to show off the iPad – including the ones we’ve designed!
It shows that the iPad can be a media surface to share, rather than a proscenium to consume through alone.
Russell Davies pointed this out back in February (before we’d even touched one) saying:
[GoGos]’d be the perfect counters for a board game that uses the iPad as the board. They’d look gorgeous sitting on there. We’d need to work out how to make the iPad think they were fingers – maybe some sort of electrostatic sausage skin – and to remember which was which.
Inspired by Marble Mixer, and Russell’s writings – I decided to do a spot of rapid prototyping of a ‘peripheral’ for magic table games that calls out the shared-surface…
It’s a screen – but not a glowing one! Just a simple bit of foamboard cut so it obscures your fellow player’s share of the game board, for games like Battleships, or in this case – a mocked-up guessing-game based on your flickr contacts…
You’d have a few guesses to narrow it down… Are they male, do they have a beard etc…
Fun for all the family!
Anyway – as you can see – this is not so serious a prototype, but I can imagine some form of capactive treatment to the bottom edge of the screen, perhaps varying the amount of secret territory each player revealed to each other, or capacitive counters as Russell suggests.
Aside from games though – the pattern of a portable shared media surface is surely worth pursuing.
As Paul Dourish put it in his book “Where the action is” – the goal would be
“interacting in the world, participating in it and acting through it, in the absorbed and unreflective manner of normal experience.”
Designing media and services for “little-ass” rather than “big-ass” magic tables might propel us into a future not so removed from the one I thought we might have lost…