I recently read a fine article in the Atlantic called iPhone 5? Yawn. What Will the ‘Phone’ of 2022 Look Like? It does a good job of summaring what some engineers and designers believe will be next. It’s a fun and inspiring read.
The problem is the odds are very good we’re all wrong.
The trap is when we think about the future, we assume the best idea wins. This is a myth of innovation: it’s chapter 8 in the book. The quality of the ideas involved is certainly a factor, but often not the most important one.
Consider how many human interfaces throughout history were chosen:
- The QWERTY keyboard
- Car steering wheels and gas/brake pedals
- Doorknobs / handles
- Bathroom faucets
- Electrical outlets
These paradigms became standard primarily because they were the idea in use at a key time in the development of the technology. Better ideas came along later, but it didn’t matter. It was either too expensive, too hard to teach, or there was no market incentive to drive a shift to something new. So no change came.
Odds are very good we will have many of the same UI paradigms a decade, or even a century, from now. (the motion detection bathroom faucets are an interesting counter example, but they’re not dominant and they may be more annoying than they’re worth).
And when change does come it will likely be not because of some master plan to make a better phone, or a better outlet. It will be because an entirely new concept comes along that disrupts the very idea of these devices, and that change will likely bring along with it entirely new flaws that were impossible to predict at the time, but that we’ll be stuck with for much longer than anyone expects.
Also see: The future of UI will be boring