Designing for “smack”?

~ 26 May 2006 ~

In early 2005, Apple began shipping PowerBooks and iBooks with Sudden Motion Sensor technology, which “is designed to help prevent disk failures if the computer is dropped or undergoes severe vibration.” Talented hackers wasted little time dreaming up unconventional uses, as reported back in March 2005 by Wired (“Hackers Tilt PowerBook for Tricks”). Yet more than one year later, it doesn’t seem the prolific hacking proved all that fruitful.

This week seems to be a different story. Perhaps I’ve been late to the party in noticing it, but just this week I’ve seen a few interesting motion sensor hacks circling the blogosphere. Gotta run to the bathroom? Feel free to leave your MacBook unattended with iAlertU, which seems to be a hipper version of TheftSensor that adds some flair by mimicking a car alarm. Then there’s SmackBook Pro, granting users the ability to switch virtual desktops by literally “smacking” their MacBook. And not to be missed is MacSaber, breeding a whole new version of the infamous Star Wars Kid.

All this begs the question: Will motion sensor interaction add a new layer to the UI experience? And closer to home, will it evolve to become a part of UI design? Imagine smacking your machine on the right to return to the home page. Maybe the Nintendo Wii is a big leap forward in interaction with digital devices and their interfaces. What would similar thinking do for mobile devices, particularly the mobile web and current UI shortcomings imposed by page clicks, scrolling, and the like? Not unlike Mouse Gestures for Firefox of a couple years back, imagine flicking your phone to the left to go back, flipping it towards you to scroll, and so on.

Who knows. Motion sensor interaction may have little impact on UI design in the end, but it’s certainly fun to speculate nonetheless.



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1   Tom L ~ 26 May 2006 at 01:44 PM

Not to nit-pick, but mouse gestures started in Opera, I believe. But more to the point, the Wii controller looks very interesting. I’d love to give it a try. I can see it being more natural, as opposed to a thumb stick.

2   Cameron Moll ~ 26 May 2006 at 02:31 PM

Ha, didn’t know that (Opera mouse gestures). Thanks.

3   Steven Ametjan ~ 26 May 2006 at 03:30 PM

Who’s for being able to shake your laptop and have Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, et all, clear the canvas like an Etch-a-Sketch?

4   Jacob ~ 26 May 2006 at 03:39 PM

He He…I agree with Steve.

5   Greg ~ 26 May 2006 at 03:59 PM

The smackbook idea is a step in the right direction. I’m waiting for hand motion navigation ALA Minority Report.

6   Steven Ametjan ~ 26 May 2006 at 04:09 PM

You mean sorta like what my company produced with Accenture?

Or did you mean exactly like in Minority Report, which we also helped with? :-)

7   Aaron Corsi ~ 26 May 2006 at 04:47 PM

I really want to see a game that allows you to tilt your MacBook around to get a different camera angle on the action, wouldn’t that be a great mechanic in an RTS like Warcraft III?

8   Jan Brašna ~ 26 May 2006 at 05:19 PM

Actually, Cameron, if I’m not mistaken the first sudden motion sensor reader was built exactly for the purpose of studying the possibilities of having motion–controlled activity. There were some efforts to put together a virtual HID driver based on the data from SMS ~ “joystick”/”cursor” driven by the motion of the laptop.

9   Jared ~ 26 May 2006 at 07:26 PM

Hmmm. I’d like to smack my computer to bring up the force quit menu when the pinwheel thing spins into oblivion. Seems fitting.

10   Rob Goodlatte ~ 27 May 2006 at 10:19 PM

The only problem with apps like MacSaber is the risk of flinging the laptop out of your hands. The applecare support call would be funny:

“Yeah, I broke my new MacBook because I was swinging it around wildly pretending I was a Jedi Knight”

But smacking the display to switch between apps might actually be useful, just don’t expect the same range of motion as the Wii.

11   Ivanhoe ~ 28 May 2006 at 03:38 AM

Dumb article. Played too much recently Xbox

12   James ~ 28 May 2006 at 05:22 PM

The whole smackbook thing is retarded. Apple integrate technology to protect the HD in case of fall -> technology is abused to actually encourage people to smack it, possibly damaging their machines. Retarded.

13   ptw ~ 28 May 2006 at 08:29 PM

I have to smack my craplet (Averetec) now to get it to work sometimes. It apparently has motion sensing (sometimes).

14   Cameron Moll ~ 29 May 2006 at 07:01 AM

James - The point isn’t necessarily whether we’ll encourage smacking in UI design or not, but rather whether or not motion sensor interaction will affect UI design, should it become a more integral part of human computing interaction.

15   YouraverageJoe ~ 30 May 2006 at 08:45 AM

@ Moll

improve UI for disabled people?

16   Clifton ~ 30 May 2006 at 10:25 AM

The best application would be a little slave robot that you could smack around as it does your laundry and vacuums the floor. Then maybe people would stop hitting their kids since they can hit the Housebot instead.

Worked for the Jetsons…


17   ML ~ 30 May 2006 at 05:45 PM

Actually, at some point (not any time soon) I think UI will be affected by technology. At some point mainstream sites will be using touch-screen technology. Think of going to on your laptop (while at an airport of something) and browsing it using touch screen? The point is, if and when this ever happens, UI will indeed be affected. Im pretty sure we’ll see larger buttons and larger icons for scrolling options to name a few changes.

18   John ~ 31 May 2006 at 10:56 AM


I know there is a guy who is developing a writing program with the motion control sensor. It allows you to sit at a normal distance from the computer, and wave your hand in the shapes of letters and other motions to control keyboard funstions.

This may sound complex, but for someone like my dad who had a stroke, he has limited control over his right hand, but can wave his arm with no problems.


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