Common Questions About Environmental User Interfaces

Do we really need this? How is this useful?

Environmental user interfaces enable our devices to handle situations in ways never before possible. They empower designers and brands to be more expressive. They bring culture into computing. For example, lacquerware has been an artform in Asia for many thousands of years. Lacquerware is but one medium which may be faithfully depicted by an environmental user interface. Any visual quality including glitter, reflection, translucency, carbon fiber, pearlessence, irridessence, illumination, candy apple, or others may be faithfully depicted.

These questions are further answered here.

What about performance?

Environmentally-lit interfaces are fast. They operate at framerates of 60 FPS or more on devices several generations old. As processors continue to increase in performance and efficiency in accordance with Moore’s law, they will only get faster.

What about power consumption? What about <insert technical detail>?

The very first haptics-enabled iOS devices we built were iPod Touches with haptic actuators sandwiched between the screen and rest of the device. They were an inch thick and powered by a pack of AA batteries hung on a wire outside the device. They were ridiculous-looking; nothing you would expect to be used in real life. It took many iterations to develop what eventually became Apple’s Taptic Engine. Today, no one would question the elegance of that feature of Apple’s most popular products.

To date, every demo of an environmental user interface has used retrofitted hardware. None of these represent the ideal device capable of an environmental user interface.

I hate skeuomorphism. / I hate flat design. / I hate <insert style>.

Environmentally-lit interfaces are not about touting one aesthetic over another. Rather, they are about empowerment. Environmentally-lit interfaces empower designers and brands to express themselves through digitial media in ways never before possible. The capabilities of environmental user interfaces go far beyond any form of digital media yet conceived. In this way, they fundamentally improve any style.

Is this AR (augmented reality)?

In my opinion, no, this isn’t AR. It’s the inverse of AR. Whereas AR is concerned with projecting visual elements into your environment, this is concerned with projecting your environment onto existing visual elements (user interface controls, buttons, sliders, pickers, etc). However, in terms of technology, there certainly is overlap between AR and environmental user interfaces. In fact, fundamental advancements have been made during the creation of the first environmental user interfaces that stand to greatly improve AR. I’m sure these two technologies are going to have a long and complementary future together.

Which devices support this?

To find out whether your device supports an environmental user interface, contact your device vendor.

Are there any demo apps available?

There currently are no demo apps available. However, this is under consideration.

Have you patented it?

A substantial body of intellectual property has been built, covering aspects of environmental user interfaces far beyond what has been disclosed publicly. Patents are certainly involved, but only as part of a much broader effort. If you or your company are interested in building environmental uesr interfaces for your own products, let’s talk.

How can I support this project?

Tell as many people as you can about it. Be sure to follow/subscribe/like/share/retweet.

I’d like to invest.

If you represent a fund, company, institution, or qualify as an accredited investor in accordance with SEC Rule 501 of Regulation D, I may be contacted here.

What’s your goal? What’s your business model?

  • Product development - Building products with environmental user interfaces
  • Professional services - Helping others build products with environmental user interfaces
  • Intellectual property - Continued development of groundbreaking technology

Bob Burrough
January 12, 2019