Adaptive Path’s Aurora

Adaptive Path’s Aurora hit the virtual reality streets today. Most likely you’ve already seen the video. Nothing new, not really. Apple has been whittling away at it, a byte at a time. The difference here is not the bytes, but the size: will it be hard for interaction designers to chew on, or will it help us solve problems standing too long on 2-D legs only, that 3-D can solve?

Today, Adaptive Path’s Aurora hit the bits (previously, airwaves). Most likely you’ve already seen the video. Though Apple and others have been testing the 3-D GUIs waters form some time now, with the “genie” icons rising when we “run” the

My first impression recalled the same images that others recalled who I’ve talked with about it: Minority Report. And it was only a matter of time: the more you use a mouse or track pad or track ball to select and drag a window, or other “object,” the more you want to reach out and grab it. No? Just me? Okay. But admit that after using Apple’s Time Machine UI, it is hard to help imagining it applied it to a variety of other user / service interface design problems, no?

The question is not only how engaging Aurora and its ilk will be to use, but how it can be used to solve problems that are harder to solve in 2-D only. And I don’t mean uploading video. I mean practical user interface design problems. Such as a config. screen, where two dimensions, or axis (tables and grids, usually), can force a design that, for example, requires learning and memory: retention of items from one axis, when not visible, while manipulating those of the other two that are. Now that I think of it, that could remain a problem with 3-D interfaces.

Invest In Memory… Yours and Theirs

So what problems do 3-D user interfaces pose that “traditional” 2-D ones don’t, and how can we avoid them? The classic drag and drop pattern problem of specifying the drop target on select still must be handled with care. Truly. How much more so for drag and drop in 3-D? This is the challenge, and don’t let the marketing department (hype and hyperbole) tell you otherwise: 3-D interface design that supports new paradigms not easily supported by 2-D, to ease the task at hand.

Sure, initially there will be a degree of general delight in the novelty and “eye candy” of this sort of 3-D user interface itself. But if it will be useful, it must be usable. And let us not forget the system memory that such graphics processing taxes. Not to mention production overhead (time, skill, effort, and money). And then of course there is the screen constraint itself; flatness, which we can expect will remain. Yes, there is much to do and discover now. And what a great new set of problems to have!

When I attended the UX Intensive SF event last February, Garrett was instead attending the local gaming industry event. So it appears that the wheels we now see rolling in the video were in motion already, then. We spoke briefly of depth of immersion as a metric that game designers and producers can use, that other interface designers have not, yet. Always ahead of the curve, Jessie James Garrett is deservedly proud of his efforts now evidenced by the Aurora project. And his pride is unmistakable: his name leads the video. Einstein, too, had pride. And he also knew that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Aurora, I’d say, is yet more evidence of that.

Often, when something inspiring like this comes a long, it is generally good. As ajax had helped inspire a great wave of application UI patterns in the past five or so years, Aurora-like user interfaces will almost certainly fuel another great burst of effort. Inspired people are motivated people, and motivated people are productive. Yet lest we forget the technology boom days, and the suffering that followed its dot-com implosions, we should still hold fresh in our minds that there really can be too much of a good thing.

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