Consider for a moment the rapid rate at which technology has advanced over the last ten years. Computers have made the switch from cumbersome desktops to lightweight laptops, cellular telephones no longer simply make calls but can actually mimic the performance of desktop computers of a decade ago, and now, even the laptop is in danger of being cast in the shadow of even more powerful portable devices including touch-screen tablet computers.
Now consider this. As demand for these products grows and companies rush to deliver the next great innovation, the pace at which advances can occur simply cannot continue if the concepts do not change. What this means in the field of computing and electronics is that the processing power no longer offers great innovation just by gaining a little speed and computing ability. Users are already at a point where they don’t know what to do with the power they have at their fingertips. What is needed is a new direction that will offer greater utilisation of the power available today. Enter the decade of the electronic interface revolution.
GUI to You
An interface is anything that allows a user to interact with a tool. Perhaps the most popular interface is the Windows Operating System. Windows, and its Graphical User Interface (GUI), allowed non-expert users to easily interact with computers for the first time, and led to the revolution in computing that continues today. The next step in the evolution of electronic and computer interfaces are tools that do not require direct input from the user but rather sense a user’s actions and translate that into commands.
Take as an example the Microsoft Kinect system for its XBox game console. The Kinect basically consists of an array of sensors, including cameras that can see what a user is doing physically and interpret that into computer commands. Other game console makers have been paying attention and most either have a similar product available or in the works, and most industry experts agree that the concept of the joystick and keypad controllers will soon be a distant nostalgic memory.
If you have a smartphone, you also have an example of these “hidden” interface sensors. By simply rotating your phone or tablet computer 90 degrees in either direction, you easily change the view from portrait to landscape. This requires no thought or specific action on the user’s part other than the natural motion of changing the object’s orientation. A gyroscopic sensor in the device senses the movement and reacts accordingly. The same interface sensor also makes many other features possible such as circuitry than can automatically detect that a person has fallen simply from the phone’s acceleration. This is the new world of medical alert products.
There are two reasons why innovations in hidden interfaces continue to grow rapidly. One, as has already been touched upon, is that electronics manufacturers have reached a point where electronic processing power exceeds the device’s other capabilities. The second, and no less important reason, is that users can’t get enough. Devices can’t simply be faster and more powerful; they have to do more and do things never before done. Since it’s consumers that drive sales and thus product development, this will be the focus.
A Battery’s Story
Another area where interface sensors will help electronic functionality is in battery consumption. Obviously the best use of battery life occurs when the device is in a sleep or low-power state when not in use. The problem is weighing convenience with practicality. A new class of interface sensors can quickly determine when the device is about to be used and power it up without the user’s input. This will make the devices both quicker to power on when needed and power down when they are not. Anyone who works with portable electronic devices knows what an important issue battery life is.
Sensors also work well in controlling displays. Light sensors easily adjust screen brightness according to ambient light and glare. This makes it easier to view a display and also plays a pivotal role in battery conservation by automatically dimming power-hungry displays when extreme brightness isn’t needed.
In the next few years, users can certainly expect to see an array of new interface sensors in their electronic devices, as well as novel uses for devices such as cameras that are already pervasive. By the time the iPhone 7 comes out, you can count on a wide array of gyroscopes, light sensors, infrared beams, motion-detecting and recognising cameras and many other components that will allow the next generations of electronics to offer a user experience unlike anything we currently know.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design. www.lx-group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.