Sony's Stone referred to this fresh awareness as a consumer "SOS" to which at long last manufacturers are responding.
Vanderheiden detailed the most promising ways that user interfaces might be engineered to make devices easier to use. Among these, he cited UIS. On any new device, a UIS would allow the user to import an older, more familiar control interface. The device would then recognize this interface, allowing users to interact with the device in familiar ways.
Describing the potential of this technology, Vanderheiden said, "It's like having a friend who's going to do things for you."
Vanderheiden said his laboratory is one of several working on a task modeling approach to consumer devices, which would defineand limitthe use of the device in terms of tasks users want to perform, rather than according to the full range of the device's capabilities. He also said the dream of "natural language" devices is closer than it was when Captain Kirk put the idea into TV viewer's minds 40 years ago.
Panelist Tom MacTavish, director of the Center for Human Interaction Research at Motorola, said that ease-of-use will also be enhanced with greater use of bit-mapped graphics, touch-screen technology and other interfaces that "isolate the user from the complexity of the device."
The bad news is that none of these answers is likely to emerge in the near future.
One thing that can be done immediately, said panelist Charles Rich, distinguished research scientist at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories, is for retailers to discourage manufacturers from overemphasizing their "features list." The more features offered on, for example, a TV, the higher the price. But with more features comes more complexity, followed by confusion, followed by disillusionment. "The rate of sales of new technology," noted Vanderheiden, "is being held back because people just do not want to deal with another new interface."
So, asked moderator Junko Yoshida, EE Times news editor, if not now, when?
The panelists agreed that, unlike the technology thunderbolts that are typically launched at CES, ease-of-use solutions will emerge incrementally, driven by an industry slowly recognizing complexity as a major issue, but hindered by a reluctance to standardize user interfaces that often serve as keys to product differentiation. Rich stressed that ease-of-use solutions, like natural language controls, must be bug-free before they're introducedor they will end up as part of the complexity problem, not the solution.
The good news about solving ease-of use problems in incremental steps, said Vanderheiden, is that they are sure to be "100-percent successful," but only "when it's mature enough."