Surface, your end-users, and you.

I am finally back in quiet Maple Valley, WA, after spending five days in LA meeting and chatting with developers at wildly successful PDC 2008. I was at the conference to interview as many developers, architects, and other IT professionals as my voicebox would allow.

First, let me say that PDC, as always, was geekdom at its height--and I loved it! I understand that about 6,500 people congregated at the LA Convention Center to learn about Microsoft's latest technologies. IMO, the technology that stole the show was (drum roll...) what else? Microsoft Surface! We had a Hands-On Lab area and it was constantly flooded by folks who took our SDK for a test drive... well, maybe this wasn't exactly like a 'test drive' and more analogous to when Oprah gave away Pontiacs because we sent the developers home with the SDK 🙂

I would like to thank the (possibly) 100 to 150 people that I personally chatted with at PDC. I met CEOs, CTOs, IT Directors, architects, software engineers, and even one usability engineer! These folks represented countries like Japan, China, Denmark France, Germany, Israel, Argentina, Italy.... just to mention a few. I think you guys walked away with more than you thought you would get 🙂 

I walked away with a few lessons myself and the following are the common talking points when I chat with the PDC attendees about buidling Surface applications for end-users: 

1. What solutions you can build is limited to your imagination! We concocted the pixie dust, you as the solution developer, create the magic. (We'll show you a few tricks of course!) Remember that in every magic show, your audience don't need to see the trick swords, hidden trap-door, magnets, etc.! Similarly, your end-users don't need to see the plumbing and complexity.

2. This is not about simply building a single touch-enabled application. As a litmus test, if your users can use your soluton on a simple single touch screen, then you are not leveraging the power that Surface offers. You don't get a sportscar with a V12 engine to go to the grocery store! Think multi-touch, multi-user, and multi-directional UI. Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the beginning of the shift from GUI to NUI (Natural User Interface). (Note: Incidentally, the legendary Dennis Wixon, myself, and a few other eminent researchers are hosting a workshop on multitouch and Surface computing at SIGCHI next year. I'll talk more about this soon.)

3. Think far, very far outside the box. Engage designers and other creative professionals to brainstorm your solution. Go extreme. Go far. Go crazy. You don't want your users to think that you solution is cool. That is so 2007. You want your user to go "this is amazing!" when they interact with your solution.

4. Let us know what you want! As you work on your solution, tell us what you want. Tell us what you like and what you don't like. Microsoft understands that in order for our software development technologies to be successful, the developers who use them have to be successful. This is no different at Surface.


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