devEyes – escaping the hopeless little screen

“Ubiquitous computers must know where they are” – Mark Weiser, “The Computer for the 21st Century“

Smartphones and tablets have become omnipresent and are unquestionably practical, useful and powerful devices. They do miss, however, one very important aspect of human-computer interaction (HCI): the natural, healthy immersion of users in their surrounding physical world. Mobile devices focus attention on one little screen – think people bumping to each other and non-responsive “zombie” playing kids. As digital content consumers, mobile device users are confined to a very limited space and the interaction with a given digital item is limited to one person at the time. The key point of devEyes is addressing these particular issues of mobile computing.

Social computing

Paradoxically, while mobile devices have brought unprecedented communication opportunities, the genuine social aspect is often perceived as lacking. People sitting together and just disconnectedly checking their phones without talking has already become an omnipresent cliché. This is, again, a side effect of everyone being “stuck in their hopeless little screens”, as the late Leonard Cohen wrote in “Democracy“.

With devEyes, each device becomes an integrated piece of a larger, common digital space – hosted on the physical surface. Co-located sharing and presenting of content as well as multi-user interaction becomes a natural thing to do and users are directly aware that they act in a “social computing” environment.

Work

A laptop or desktop computer, a mobile phone and a desk – the typical office working environment. You do most work on the computer and use your mobile device to check mails when you’re not in the office, but what about the desk !? It used to be good for organizing your paper documents on it, but in the digital era the desk inspired the desktop metaphore and then just turned into support for computing devices – a rather sad destiny.

How about making the desk great again ? 🙂 With devEyes, you can use your physical desk as digital content storage via your mobile device. Digital items can then flow back and forth from your desk to your mobile device – and from there to your desktop or the Internet. Other people can leave items on your desk which only you can see. You can choose to make the desk  content visible using projection. Or not. Your desk, your rules.

Play

While most adults just silently sink in their mobile screens, children are actually much more actively trying to add a true social component to their playing on devices. They discuss, show and teach each other, fight over stuff that happen in mobile games, and so on  – but they hit the same fundamental limit: a small device screen is, in itself, not exactly a proper tool for social interaction.

In contrast, a game in which the device is an integral part of a larger spatially augmented “playground” (either by means of projection, as in the right picture, or by traditional printing as in table games) allows truly social gaming.

Summary

These examples are meant to show that, by seamlessly integrating mobile devices on physical surfaces, digital content is no longer confined to a device screen, but “lives” on a much larger physical surface like your desk, a conference table or just a piece of paper – virtually everywhere.

From there, it can be “embodied” in a device and manipulated as a physical object (tangible interaction), made visible outside the device by projection mapping on the surface, shared with other users on the same surface (co-located collaboration), moved to another physical location, sent back and forth across devices, desktop computers and the Internet. The focus shifts from the device to its surrounding environment – while preserving all existing functionality.

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