NUI or GUI or … not

Today there are a lot of devices (smartphones, tablets, handheld game consoles, etc.) with support for gestural interface. We often call such interfaces natural user interfaces (NUI). These interfaces are in contrast with the traditional graphical user interfaces (GUI). In this post I am going to share my thoughts and experience with NUI.

Every software engineer knows that one should not make definitive assumptions how IT systems will be used. Often IT systems are used in unexpected and unpredicted ways. However such assumptions are rarely considered when it comes to user interfaces.

Natural user interfaces strive to offer more intuitive and easy human-technology interaction. This sounds all good and nice but lets focus on the word natural. In my understanding, natural means that the user doesn’t have to use artificial input/interaction devices such as keyboard and mouse. However, this does not mean that NUI is easy and intuitive for everyone. Users have still to learn it. While NUI is crucial for fast adoption of a new product it doesn’t mean it is easy to achieve it.

Today’s NUIs are not natural. Every company provides its own NUI standard and its per se artificial gestural language. Trying forcefully to apply NUI standard is not a solution. Cultural aspects should be preserved and considered. For example, almost every smartphone does not have support for left handed people.

My experience with different Android, iOS and Windows (Phone) 8 devices shows me that there is inconsistency between all of them. Often different applications for a particular platform use different gestures for the same command. Sometimes the companies use different NUI vocabularies for the same gesture. This could be confusing for the users.

In closing, I think that natural interfaces should allow us to interact with devices in the manner we interact with objects in everyday life. The devices should be able to learn user’s natural gestures/language and adapt to it. The companies should provide their natural interfaces as a fallback option.