Displaying the Future

by Luke Wroblewski May 17, 2004

What’s more likely to advance digital information integration: better input devices or better displays? The easy answer is both. The more honest answer is that it’s quite difficult to introduce new forms of input.

Unless an idea is significantly superior (even for very specific applications) it may have a hard time being accepted. New interface elements add to mental load, can potentially slow learning, and could break consistency standards. We have a lot vested in our current input devices. Think of how long we’ve lived with the QWERTY keyboard and mouse (albeit with incremental improvements like the scroll wheel).

Display improvements on the other hand are easy: make them bigger, make them better, and make them portable. Better- it’s been a long time since IBM announced their 9 million pixel 22-inch screen in 2000, but how much better do you want? Bigger- what more appropriate market to drive display size than TV sales? Portable- OLEDs have started popping up in all kinds of “future” devices from personal navigators to wrist-top hubs to multimedia handicams.

“Light-emitting organic materials offer brighter and more efficient displays than LEDs. And you'll be able to unroll them across a tabletop.” - Better Displays with Organic Film, Scientific American

These display formats can help to drive information integration by finding their way into living rooms, pockets, and conference rooms. With them, they will bring new input formats: how do you interact with an information visualization the length and width of a conference table? How do you do it as a team? One solution at Wired’s NextFest this past weekend did it with touch-screens. That works with large interface elements, but may fall short when better displays (higher resolution & information density) merge with bigger displays and portability.