iPad to drive demand for natural user interfaces

iPad, tablets, and touchscreen smartphones require enterprises to rethink user experiences

With the iPad's release tomorrow and growing adoption of touchscreen smartphones, it's only a matter of time before natural user interfaces become a mainstream IT requirement.

Useful, usable, and desirable applications

I've been spending some time learning about enterprises that are evolving their Web applications for devices other than a personal computer. Several increasingly related trends are behind this evolution:

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  • Enterprises are adopting Web 2.0 design and interaction practices -- yes Web 2.0 is still an investment area for enterprises
  • These enterprises are being pushed by their users, and their competitors, to expose enterprise applications to mobile devices
  • Enterprises are beginning to expand social interactivity and communications enablement inside of their Web applications
  • Enterprises are beginning to expose their Web application content to third-party sites by exposing APIs to their enterprise Web applications; this is being done to deliver content to users where users are versus expecting users will always end up on the enterprise Web site

The central driver behind these four trends is, not surprisingly, to deliver better user experiences. However, "better" tells only half the story. After reading Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri's post about user experience, I realized that "better" really means experiences that are useful, usable, and desirable.

Growing interest in natural user interfaces

As serendipity would have it, Forrester's Jeffrey Hammond just wrote about natural user interfaces, which absolutely embody useful, usable, and desirable user experiences. Forrester and a Dr. Dobbs Developer survey conducted in fall 2009 suggest that multitouch and NUIs (natural user interfaces) weren't exactly at the top of the list of emerging trends that respondents were interested in. However, "mobile apps," "RIAs," and "social networking apps" -- which were in the top trends -- are very much related to natural user interfaces.

An enterprise building out an RIA or social networking application has to consider how that application will behave on a mobile device. As such, the interest in natural user interfaces is likely understated and growing every day. Jeffrey goes on to write:

We've had a few inquires this quarter into NUIs, and whether the time is right to start firing up R&D efforts within large application development shops. In general, I think the answer is "yes" when it comes to multitouch, not just because of mobile devices like the iPhone and Android phones, but also because of the native capabilities built into .Net 4.0. As organizations refresh PCs and move toward Windows 7 and .Net 4.0, the number of multitouch-ready devices is about to increase dramatically.
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