Just As I Thought

Welcome to the Third Dimension

There is some chatter in the Mac world today about the potential for Apple’s new version of the Mac OS to sport what they are calling “3D interfaces.”

There is some chatter in the Mac world today about the potential for Apple’s new version of the Mac OS to sport what they are calling “3D interfaces.” I get the feeling that people are leaping to conclusions about this concept — the mind immediately jumps to impressions of people wearing massive red-green glasses, or windows floating in deep space. I believe the reality will be very different. Why? Because Apple always sows the seeds of change in advance. Every time there is a big new thing from Apple, one can look back in time and connect the dots of what earlier appeared to be unrelated innovations.
This time, I think it’s a new windowing paradigm. Those of us using Macs are by now familiar with Widgets, the tiny specialized apps that pop up on the screen when invoked by a function key or mouse action. Because widgets are so small and specialized, they have no menu bar like a regular app, and thus the user can’t bring up a window with preferences or options. Instead, the user clicks a little “info” icon on the widget. When this happens, the widget spins around in 3D space to show a back side, where options can be set.
Unlike a regular window, which exists in only a flat plane, these new objects exist in an additional dimension, making the window deep. It has two sides. It’s not very deep — it doesn’t have edges, or additional sides — but it does have the effect of doubling the amount of space in that window. It has become an almost physical object on the screen.
Most people will not see this as a great leap forward, but I think it is. It’s akin to the day when the ordinary barcode, with a single dimension, gave way to the “3D barcode,” those squarish codes with data both horizontally and vertically that track packages from UPS and other companies. One additional dimension provides an exponential leap in the amount of data carried in the space.
This, I believe, is the leap Apple is making, slowly, without much fanfare. One notes that it has added these extra-dimensional window widgets to the upcoming iPhone. I suspect that we will see more of this technology in their upcoming Leopard operating system. Exponentially more data in a smaller space, and the feeling of a physical object. Add to this the coming Multitouch interface technology, and with only a few small steps they have changed the way we interact with computers, quietly and carefully over time.
Again.

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