When it comes to touch-free interactions the first thing that probably comes to mind is a Hollywood action flick like Iron Man. However, instead of being Robert Downey Jr and using a ginormous virtual screen, you are one out of over a billion smartphone and/or tablet users worldwide who will soon be surrounded with touch-free capabilities. One touch-free capability you may already be familiar with is Apple’s Siri used for voice communications. Just like the introduction of Siri using Natural Language Interaction (NLI) back in 2011, new and even more creative touch-free gestures are being implemented and mass marketed every day.
Currently, if you are one of the vast amounts of people who use a smartphone and/or tablet then you have certainly become acquainted with the touch screen gestures such as pinching to zoom, swiping, dragging, and so on. Until recently almost all of the gesture interactions involved actually touching the screen. Recently, there has been a push for touch-free interactions, and just like in the movies they definitely have an enticing appeal. After all, adding new gestures can be a powerful experience for users. Anything that can make you relate to using Iron Man’s technology is certainly not a bad thing.
If you are contemplating using touch-free capabilities then you need to first and foremost always consider your user and how, when, why, and for what purpose they would be using this form of interaction. If you are simply developing touch-free gestures to add excitement and curiosity then you will soon be left with a useless product. Users are demanding and direct, and if your product simply “looks cool” but doesn’t accomplish a goal easily and quickly then the users will switch to something that does.
Designers need to consider the learning curve involved with the new interactions. Are they easily recognizable and fit in with the natural user interface concept? If the gestures aren’t practical then users will avoid the product because they simply won’t invest the time in thinking.
Consider the actual gestures themselves. Unless this is, for example, a workout app, steer away from extremely repetitive or prolonged gestures because the purpose is not to strain your users but rather to provide an easy and stress-free experience.
Also consider the effects of using touch-free gestures on your device. If it’s going to drain your battery, blow up data rates, or destroy your processing power then this option isn’t fitting.
Just like the effects that resulted from the transition of a Command line Interface (CLI) into a Graphical User Interface (GUI), the same thing will happen between switching from a GUI into a Natural User Interface (NUI) with touch-free capabilities. I think the transition into NUI and touch-free interfaces is very exciting but like any new design it will require multiple iterations to bridge the gap between design, development, and overall user experience. It will also require a new way of thinking about how we design and develop. For the application to be useful the design and development will have to be more forgiving to the users. As every user is different, the application needs to be flexible and capable of detecting a wider range of human actions and gestures while also keeping a low cost for errors. The system also needs to be capable of learning from the users’ successive interactions.
Transitioning into a new design will also require a new skill set to be learned by the users. This is where an application can prosper or fail. People love to discover new things, but they also want to feel successful. Therefore, the user needs to be able to instantly and continuously learn these new skills and quickly transition into being a master of the application.
In conclusion, touch-free capabilities may be portrayed as simply a current trend, but I think it will transition from trendy into a standard in how we design, develop, and interact with devices in the near future. Probably the greatest thing about touch-free interfaces isn’t all the gimmicks, but rather the concept that the device is now being forced to adapt to us instead of vice versa. If the mentality of adapting to the user continues to persist along with some creative rethinking in how we design and develop I believe that touch-free interfaces and the push for a natural user interface will continue to grow and will soon be commonplace in many of the devices we use daily.