A brief history of the User Interface

What is next for the graphical user interface?

User interface (UI) is the interaction between users and machines by giving the user control over devices such as computers and mobile phones. Applying the general principle of design to interactions, UI design is concentrated on one goal: to make using a device easy and enjoyable. But as with technology, the user interface has changed over the years and evolved.

When the personal computer as we know started to enter into living rooms in the 1980s, the UI was controlled by a command line. The user typed single line commands that were translated into actions operated using the screen, keyboard and mouse.

Anyone born in the early 1980s or before may remember entering the load “ “ to play a game on a compact cassette (K7) inserted into a cassette recorder which was loaded from the ZX Spectrum hard disks.

The spectrum loaded programs.

The beginning of UI
Xerox was the father of the GUI (Graphical User Interface) the graphical interface which Apple built on, adapted and developed. It became a standard and the proliferation of Microsoft computers during the early 1990s. From this point onwards, in the eyes of the consumer, the personal computer should be user friendly and integrate graphic elements that perform actions from commands. It was no longer an option to include easy actions but now expected.

Since then, we have seen new equipment like computers, personal digital assistants and mobile devices integrate graphic interfaces for users to perform actions. And as the years have progressed, the actions became simpler from double clicks to tap and swipe. Searching on the internet also evolved when a search engine reduced the graphical interface of its software to a simple text box. By typing even one word through this text box, a user can find out almost anything on the internet.

A few years ago, mobile devices, by far the most personal and intimate device present in the lives of the entire world population, escalated the matter of good UI design. UI (and also UX) has now become one of the main measures to determine the success of the software we use every day. For instance, as I was writing this post, I touched an icon on my tablet that launched an app where I could type by touching virtual keys on a glass. The UI design is effective and easy to use and that is shown in the sales of over 300 million devices since the launch of the particular model I was using.

The Present of UI
Then Apple’s Siri was introduced. The voice user interface responded to specific direction and performed simple actions such as “call dad” and “open calendar”. Siri was probably the first personal device (of mass consumption) that allowed the user to perform actions only with voice and and more importantly, using natural language.

Siri became better and now a user is able to interact with the phone using complete phrases and questions like “Will I need an umbrella tomorrow in Boston?” or make requests such as requesting to set the alarm for 7:30am by just tapping and talking to the phone.

When we started to see “tech personal assistants” like Amazon’s Echo and Good Home come to market, it made us reevaluate what an interface can do or what will it be able to do in the future. With these new tools, we only needed to speak naturally to communicate with the device that replies to what we ask or executes a certain function (within boundaries) without even looking at it.

The Future of UI
With the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), we have resorted back to single line commands but simply by using natural language. It seems the direction of UI in the next few years is that the graphical interfaces will allow users to have full conversations to perform actions.

My assumptions are that we are less than a decade away from being able to just say “Get my car ready because I am flying to Florida” and get a response: “You better take your sunglasses and a cap because the temperature there is 98º and the UV levels are very high. Do you want me to upload a movie to your tablet for your airplane trip?” And all this without having to see, touch or load any device.

And to think that I can go downstairs, the car is waiting and unlocks when it senses me close (via my mobile phone) and my movie is ready to play when I sit in my airplane seat. My only question is if popcorn will be included.

What do you think the future of UI will be?