"You can imagine someone sitting in front of a TV [controlling it] with the intuitiveness of a touchscreen and the efficiency of a mouse," he said.
But their technology has already been miniaturized and so it could already be used for controlling phones, too.
"What we envision of the future is a world where the phone is the only computer that you use. It's become very small and miniaturized and it has a lot of storage and you carry it around in a pocket or attached to you and then it wirelessly connects on different displays based on what you're trying to do," Buckwald said. "If you sit down at a desk, it connects to that monitor and Leap would control that. If you're out on a street, it connects to a head-mounted display and Leap would control that."
Others, like Dediu and Stillion see voice as the transformative input. Siri has not been the unabashed success that Apple's commercials set us up for. It's buggy and it seems to fall into some human-computer interaction uncanny valley. Its argot is human, but its errors are bot. The whole thing is kind of confusing. (Plus, my wife just viscerally hates it, which has made it a flop in our house.) Nonetheless, both these observers think voice input will play a big role in the future.
"When we communicate to computers we use tactile input and visual output. When we communicate with people we typically use audio for both input and output. We almost never use tactile input and consider visual contact precious and rare," Dediu wrote to me. "Our brains seem to cope well with the audio only interaction method. I therefore think that there is a great opportunity to engage our other senses for computer interaction. Mainly because I believe that computers will emerge as companions and assistants rather than just communication tools. For companionship, computers will need to be able to interact more like people do."
IDEO's Stillion converged on the same thought. He foresaw a future where your phone sits jewelry-like somewhere on your body, controlled largely via voice, but also acting semi-autonomously. In this scenario, your phone is hardly a phone anymore, in terms of being a piece of hardware. Rather, it's a hyper-connected device with access to your data from everywhere. It might even have finally have lost the misnomer, phone. "It's no longer your phone but the feed of your life," he said. "It's the data you're encountering either pushed on you or pulled by you. Either the things you're consuming or the things you're sharing."
You could TiVo your life, constantly recording and occasionally sharing. That sounds exhausting to me, but Stillion said that's where the artificial assistants will come in. "What does the right level of artificial intelligence when brought to the table allow us to do with our day-to-day broadcasting of our lives?" he asked. "Is it dialing in sliders of what interests we want to share. How open we feel one day versus the next? Someone is going to deal with that with some kind of fluid affordance."
Think of it not as frictionless sharing, but as sharing with AI greasing the wheels. "You'd almost have an attache or concierge. Someone that's whispering in your ear," he said.
What's this all have to do with input methods? Much of the interacting we have to do now concerns giving a piece of software a lot of information and context about what we want. But if it already *knows* what we want, then we don't have to input as much information.
What's fascinating to me is that I think we'll see an "all of the above" approach to user input. It'll be touch screens and gestures and voice and software knowing what we want before we do, and a whole bunch of other stuff. When I interviewed anthropologist and Intel researcher Genevieve Bell, she asked me to think about what it's like to sit in a car. They're 120 years old and yet there are still maybe half a dozen ways of interacting with the machine! There's the steering wheel to direct the wheels, pedals for the gas and break, some kind of gear shifting, a panel for changing interior conditions, and levers for the windshield wipers and turn signals. Much work is even done automatically, so it doesn't need a system like, say, automatic gear shifting. The car is a living testament to the durability of multiple input methods for complex machines.
"I had an engineer tell me recently that voice is going to replace everything. And I looked at him like, 'In what universe?' " Bell said to me. "Yes, people like to talk, but if everyone is talking to everything all around them, we'll all go mad. We're moving to this world where it's not about a single mode of interaction. ... The interesting stuff is about what the layering is going to look like, not what the single replacement is."
The first thing Clay Shirky says when I ask him about the future of phones is this. "Bizarrely, I don't even remember why we were talking about this, but my eight-year-old daughter, yesterday said, 'Oh, cell phones are eventually going to be one [biological] cell big and you can just talk into your hand,'" Shirky said. "She totally internalized the idea that the container is going to keep shrinking. When an eight-year-old picks it up, it's not like she's been reading the trade press. This is in the culture."