This quote from an ex-Apple employee about the rumored Apple tablet has got me thinking:
You will be very surprised how you interact with the new tablet.
What could this mean? There are not many interfaces that would be “very surprising.”
A virtual laser keyboard would be surprising. But like a real keyboard, those keyboards aren’t very mobile; they require a flat surface, which you normally don’t have on the move. And a virtual keyboard doesn’t really seem like Apple’s style.
Voice control, or at least good speech recognition to complement keyboard input, is also a serious possibility. It’s something Apple has been interested in for a long time (via DF). A world where airports, subways and coffee shops are filled with people dictating emails and blog posts to their mobile devices is a little terrifying, but then again we already live in a world where people are have intimate personal conversations on their mobile phones in public.
A significantly expanded set of multi-touch gestures is the most likely. Taking advantage of the larger surface of a tablet screen to allow two-handed gestures seems like a natural choice. And handwriting detection would actually not be that much of a surprise from the company that brought us the Newton. Both of these are hinted at in recent patent filings.
While the article I link to in the previous paragraph compares Apple’s patent to the interface in Minority Report, the interface that article talks about requires the user’s fingers to be touching a surface, not in the air. A true Minority Report-style interface, where you gesture in the air to control the device, would be quite surprising. Being able to control a device without actually touching the screen (and getting finger marks on it) would make the tablet more attractive for full-screen uses like watching movies and playing games. This interface is a ways off still, though.