Segway: Reinventing the User Interface?
by Marc Hedlund
Ginger/IT, the mysterious, world-changing invention surrounded by speculation, is revealed as "Segway," a personal transportation device. The hype machine revs up again with this Time article that opens more questions than it answers.
The article is a great read, providing some entertaining vignettes of user reactions, mostly from technology industry leaders. The not-so-subtle point is made that Segway enthusiasm doesn't require Steve Jobs' effusion or Jeff Bezos' ebullience -- even Andy Grove is giggling now. But much more is said about the Segway gestation and the Segway experience than the Segway machine. What should we make of this as a piece of technology?
Hard to say from a couple of breathless articles. It sounds, though, like Segway is notable as a perfect exemplar of Don Norman's thesis from The Invisible Computer. What's the user interface of this machine with "three PCs' worth of juice [...] and software so sophisticated it puts Microsoft to shame"? Well, it doesn't have one -- or rather, the interface is exactly as complex as a car ignition key. The position of the key determines the maximum speed; the rest of the interface reacts, Kamen would have us believe, to thought. Think about stopping, you stop. Think about going backwards, you do. Simply by letting you lean but not fall, Segway takes you where your posture indicates you want to go. (Perhaps we should brace for a Weebles resurgence.)
Gyroscopes are cool and all, and I'm certainly in favor of less cars, but computing devices that require no learning and no interface -- well, that's really neat. That, indeed, is software that puts Microsoft to shame. And the rest of our software industry.