For Mobile Interfaces, the Future is Multi-Modal


Mobile interfaces have come a long way. Keypads were the primary interface technology until relatively recently, with text being inputted with a series of taps on keys (e.g. a,b,c from the number 2 key). The advent of the smartphone, with its larger form factor, brought a QWERTY keyboard (e.g. BlackBerry) and, eventually the now-ubiquitous touchscreen.

Mobile UI

Today, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets rely on touch as the primary interface technology with advances in multi-touch solutions and localized haptic feedback driving continued use of touch for many day-to-day interactions with devices.

As these smart mobile devices continue to evolve, we are seeing an evolution in the types of user interface technology used. As new use cases emerge such as always-on interfaces, virtual digital assistants, context awareness, and augmented/virtual reality, we are seeing novel technologies such as gesture recognition, voice control, and sensor fusion continue to develop and enable these use cases.

While some of these technologies have been around for several years and have already been implemented in mobile devices, many have had limited consumer acceptance. However, we are on the verge of a revolution in the ways that consumers interact with mobile devices as emerging interface technologies are maturing and hardware such as microprocessors, microphones, and image sensors are now able to provide a much improved user experience.

One of the most obvious use cases for emerging interface technologies is hands-free use of mobile devices. The ability to interact with a device without the need to physically touch it is particularly important when a user needs to operate machinery such as an automobile. Voice control is already used widely in the automotive environment, with implementations from OEMs such as Ford (Ford SYNC), Mercedes (Linguatronic), Toyota (Entune), and Volvo (Sensus Connect), to name a few. These systems enable a range of voice control functions such as making phone calls or playing audio tracks from a smartphone.  As a car is naturally a relatively noisy environment, voice control is inherently difficult; however advances in noise cancellation, natural voice recognition, and voice authentication continue to be made, enabling voice to potentially be the main interface in the car in the future.

In the past, technologies such as gestures or voice control have been seen by interested parties to be the sole killer technology, but it is now becoming widely accepted that these technologies, alongside touch and others, are converging to provide more intuitive, responsive, multi-modal user interfaces.

Tractica’s forthcoming report on Emerging Interface Technologies for Mobile Devices will assess the overall market for existing and emerging interface technologies and will address key questions such as what hardware/software is needed for these to flourish, what the major drivers and inhibitors are to adoption and growth, and which major industry players are driving the market forward.

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