If you’ve been keeping up with technology, you may have heard the term Natural User Interface, or NUI. Its use in marketing material has somewhat blurred the definition of it, but it’s probably best described by stating the term’s objective, which is to allow humans to interact with computers using instinctive, or natural, elements. The success of any NUI can be measured by the amount of time a user can move from being a novice to an expert. The best designs will require little to no learning by the user to effectively interact with the computer. Pinch to zoom and panning with your fingers on a touch screen are a good example.
Now that the stuffy definitions are out of the way, we can talk about what NUI really means to us. Since the early days of computing, humans have been abstracted away from the computer by peripherals like keypunch machines, keyboards and mice. The use of these devices cannot be considered “natural” to a human being. Afterall, Mavis Beacon has made a killing from teaching people how to type. A natural user interface aims to eliminate this layer of abstraction. To do this well is not simple. It requires the use of both hardware and software to enable the computer to constantly monitor its interaction environment, and recognize the input it’s being given by the human user. Effectively, we need to teach the computer “how to type.”
Read more to see how several devices have emerged to take on the NUI challenge, including Microsoft.