Characteristics which make us humans and the powers of computing are so complimentary in nature that we have always strived to have a more closer connection with them. From the days of bulky mainframe computers taking up entire rooms to slick touch screen based physical context aware smartphones, the relationship has only become more integrated and democratised. This journey of human-computer relationship has rode the waves multiple overarching trends such as miniaturisation of hardware, more powerful computing and more natural modalities of interaction.
Hardware’s role in the computing was always of an enabler that helps us bring closer to the digital realm of software computing , where the real magic happens. Desktops made personal computing possible without the hassells of time sharing and keyboards and mouse gave us a higher level of abstraction to interact with computers as compared to punch tapes or non graphical interface. Smartphones really took it to next level with touch screen based interface where we could be as close to digital computing as a screen based system could afford, we could actually ‘touch’ our apps and software. Smartphones also are early precursors of computing which connects our physical world to the digital world ( GPS, cameras etc)
There is new paradigm of computing on the block which intends to bring our reality into the realm of digital. It is called ‘Spatial Computing’. Spatial Computing intends to connect our software and reality by leveraging the space around us as the primary medium. The technology seamlessly blends into our reality, giving us whole new set of superpowers, massive productivity gains and never seen before immersive experiences.
Based on the degree of immersion and superimpostion og digital on top of reality, spatial computing can be classified as Augmented, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality. If we plot a graph with real world on one end and 100% virtual environment on other end based on what the user experiences, we get a virtuality continuum where has all the possible degrees of mixed reality in between these end points.
What are the core charcteristics of spatial computing :
it should have strong contextual coherence and should be able to understand the world around and its objects such as time, places , objects, people etc
it should have equal or more sensory input mechanism as compared to the user who is using it to build a contextual graph. It should be able to see what the user sees, hear what he hears etc.
objects should not only perceive the space mesh but also be able to reproduce digital objects which share the physical properties of real world to create a seamless superimposition.
Spatial computing makes the hardware completely disappear. All that the users see is the software. This high emphasis on the software with it containing all the interaction points calls for a new way to think about building UI/UX. All interfaces in spatial computing should have certain skeuomorphism with the real world objects and design should build upon the the affordances of elements. How do we make the user feel natural in this new environment, what design cues and principles should we build upon. Spatial software will have to be designed for new modalities of HCI such as voice, hand gestures and eye tracking since conventional interaction points simply won’t be there.
So spatial computing is not just building content or software for the fixed confines of rectangular screens , but it is more akin to creating entire new digital worlds where user’s lifestyle is at the centre.