Shake that waterscape,

or the maraca PDA

To allow browsing of information in a passive and relaxed way, we have developed a prototype personal digital assistant (PDA) terminal with no buttons at all. By operating the terminal with simple tilting and shaking gestures, contents such as movies and music can be enjoyed.

In a former article (see below), I wrote about the increasing importance of what I called “gestural control”, which I had already been following in relation to musical intruments and seems to be slowly finding its way into everyday life (it even went mainstream when it was used in the videogame “Black&White”, for instance). In this case, Hitachi shows us a little neat device, merely a screen, where several icons (bubbles) literally “float” around. Tilting the device will displace those bubbles in such a way that when one of them gets to a “hotspot”, located in the center of the screen, it will reveal its contents, which the user can select in the same way. A second different gesture, that of shaking the device, provides a means to “go back” or deselect the current feature.

As a prototype, the waterscape is a study for new, more intuitive ways of accessing data in electronic devices. However, there are two main drawbacks that I can think of when analyzing the concept. First, I don´t think that the device could be called PDA, since its use is expressly (read the quote) described as passive. Though “Data Assistant” is a term that can be interpreted loosely, clearly the waterscape doesn´t provide the same functionality a Pocket PC or a Palm does. Then, my second concern regards the operation itself. I´m sure that, for the first days, the user would undeniably “have fun operating the terminal by tilting the bubbles” (and showing it to friends), but if usability is the key, it should go first, and trying to get the right bubble in the right place while the whole bus is shaking, for instance, or when walking, could be troublesome; shaking your hand in the middle of the street could get you out of a menu and into a taxi, and other situations could be even worse. Just imagine a crowded subway, and this guy, sandwiched in between the people, right hand in his pocket, now gently moving it, now furiously shaking it. What is he doing, you ask? Oh, well. He´s operating his waterscape, of course!

However, regardless of these concerns, the waterscape is, as a protoype, very interesting. The technology could be implemented, for instance, in watches, so that, while looking at your wrist, gently tilting it to one side would show you the time, and tilting it to the other, the date or some other information. It could be the origin of new kinds of “self contained” interactive videogames, in the style of Electroplankton. It could even be developed into a high tech musical instrument, sounding like a drone when tilted or like space maracas when shaked! I still wouldn´t play it in the subway, though…

Related Article: Switched on Air

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