The future of UI could be more like listening to music

The computers in the movie Her don’t demand that their users sit down in front of a screen and type on a keyboard. They connect with them using voice recognition, a tiny earpiece always present in the ear, and an ultra simple handheld device. While all of these technologies are basically available in some form or other today, the movie Her is unique in its vision in that it shows how computing could some day become so omnipresent and sophisticated that it could recede into the background and only emerge when a user needs or wants it.

In that way, the future of computing UI could be a lot more like listening to music. Her Production Designer KK Barrett (who will be speaking at our Roadmap design conference next week) made this comparison in an interview in an article in Wired earlier this year, and I really liked that idea. Eventually, computing could be always available in the background, able to be turned up or down on demand anywhere at anytime at a moments notice, and it will also likely be consumed while the user is doing a multitude of other things.

The handheld device in the movie Her, image courtesy of Warner Brothers.
The handheld device in the movie Her, image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

While this type of UI will be a lot more natural and always accessible, it will also be interesting to see how humans will manage their attention spans and the constant multitasking. We all know people who when you sit down for a coffee with them are only half present, constantly checking their phones. When computing is always available at recall by the user will it make us all into (even more of) walking zombies, deeply immersed in our digital worlds?

Or will moving the UI to, say, a tiny earpiece like the one in the movie Her, make us actually a lot better at multitasking (or at least the appearance of multitasking)? If technology is more natural and less intrusive, it could help enable human connections and relationships. In Her, technology isn’t a hindrance, it’s actually something that’s utterly helpful and convenient. Human beings have perfected this vision of the UI: it’s there when you want and not there when you don’t want.

This is technology as the ultimate expression of “invisible design,” which is the theme of our Roadmap conference this year. Design dissolves into everything, as the Wired article puts it. Designers of the future of computing devices and experiences like Yves Behar, Tony Fadell, Gadi Amit and Robert Brunner will take the stage at Roadmap to talk about this idea of designing digital experiences that are ultra simple, seamless and invisible in our lives.

Join us for this awesome event, which I programmed with co-chair Om Malik, and which kicks off this Monday night and runs across Tuesday Wednesday. We hope to see you there.