Clay Allsopp

Where The Puck Is Going

Mar 1, 2013

Mouse-and-keyboard are dead. Touch is dying. Post-touch is coming. Hyperbole? Maybe, but probably not.

See, about a year ago Gabe Newell talked about the future of gaming, and he not just illuminated my own cranial lightbulb but basically tossed a flash-bang grenade in its place:

[Mouse and keyboard were] stable for about 25 years. I think touch will be stable for about 10 years. I think post-touch, and we’ll be stable for a really long time — for another 25 years. I think touch will be this intermediate.

Maybe it was the way he phrased it, or maybe just what I had for breakfast that day, but by the end of that sentence everything seemed to make sense. The shift from mouse to touch to this thing Gabe calls "post-touch" appeared calculated, logical, and inevitable.

Why? In my mind, it clicked that that we're always inching closer to computing being "do what I really mean."

Before GUIs, computing was "type these commands and do what they state." That works, but you could easily type something different from what you actually want (as engineers are often reminded). And then after GUIs, we gained some more fidelity: something like moving a desktop folder meant "move the folder in the same direction as this mouse-device-thing." If you moved left, the folder went left.

Now, in the touch-era, it's more like "move the folder where my finger goes," without any mouse-indirection happening. But with post-touch, the status quo will be "move the folder where I'm looking" or "where I say"; and one day (as Kurzweilian as this sounds) it'll be "move it where I'm thinking." Or simply "move it."

And here we are, not even a full year after Gabe's talk, and the first post-touch products are already landing on Planet Earth: Glass, Myo, Leap Motion, Kinect, on and on. This stuff just creeps up on us; only six years ago this was the end-all-be-all of mobile "computing".

Touch devices cannibalized laptops and desktops, and you can bet that the new generation of post-touch products will gnaw away at smartphones and tablets. And it's exciting to think about what that future holds: what do things that replace our phones even look like? Will it be glasses? Or watches? Will it be made by Apple or Google, or a new player? Will it be as sci-fi as we imagine?

The abstractions between our intentions and how we execute them in computing are eroding. That's where the puck is going.