Summary:

Carnegie Mellon researchers have created an application that visualizes tabular data and lets users analyze it using hand gestures. It’s not the first attempt to rethink analytics for a mobile world, but it’s interesting and a sign of things to come.

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photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an application called Kinetica that’s designed to let iPad users sort through data in a manner better suited for tablet devices than traditional spreadsheets. In Kinetica, data points are represented as colored spheres. Instead of analyzing data via dropdown menus and typing in functions, it’s analyzed via gestures.

The idea behind Kinetica is obvious, and one that some startups have begun investigating as well: In a mobile-first business world, users will need data-analysis tools that don’t require them to manipulate tables full of values, type complex functions or write specialized code. Because they have small screens and typically aren’t connected to real keyboards, tablets and mobile devices are arguably better suited to visual and gesture-based interfaces. Younger users might require that experience.

I’ve also covered a startup called ZoomData that sells something similar to Kinetica. The company has built an business intelligence application designed for tablets, on which users swipe between visualizations and data palettes to filter, compare or otherwise analyze their data.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University / Kinetica

Source: Carnegie Mellon University / Kinetica

Aside from just letting users analyze data in an intuitive way on a tablet, tools like Kinetica could actually help users think about their data in a different way because of how the app visualizes the steps leading to the final result. A press release about the application explains how:

Data points don’t just pop into place after they have been manipulated with Kinetica, as they do in a traditional spreadsheet. Seeing where data points come from as they are sorted can give the user deeper insights into relationships … . For instance, when a user drags a virtual sieve across points to filter them, they can watch as the points are screened out. Outliers — data points that don’t fit with most of the others — also can be readily identified.

As we enter what appears to be a golden age of data, tools for analyzing it are going to have to come to the people in ways they can understand and on the devices they use. Most people — even flush with data about themselves and things that matter to them, and increasingly able to generate what they don’t have – won’t be rushing to bloated desktop applications or programming libraries to do anything with it.

It’s worth noting that Jeff Rzeszotarski, a Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. candidate who co-created Kinetica, was a 2013 Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellow. Microsoft recently announced the availability of Office for iPad, which includes an iPad-specific version of its hugely successful Excel spreadsheet application.

Kinetica will be available for download soon, but the project’s website includes this video showing the user experience.

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