The current model
Current research trends are in favour of large public displays, hidden projectors, and table top displays – Microsoft’s Surface being a prominent example along with the many research projects involving public displays.
A lot of these projects have options for multiple users operating the systems, in fact some are made only for collaboration in the workplace (Highwire’s CoffeeTable, and Intel’s What Do You Bring To the Table?). However, when systems are in a public setting, the use becomes more of a public service than a means for collaboration and when the users are acting independently great efforts are made to determine identity and facilitate independent interaction and data presentation.
The classic example of this is where you walk up to a public display in a university and the display shows your time-table.
In the above scenario, what happens when a display is surrounded by more than one person – say 5 people. Does it show 5 individual timetables? If 50 people approach the display does it show 50 timetables? That is impractical, so what is a fair way to display a crowds worth of information to a waiting crowd? It could be shown one at a time, but then who gets to see theirs first, and more importantly how does one recognise your own timetable if you can’t remember it in the first place? Does your name have to appear with the time-table? Will public users be comfortable with this scenario? What authentication methods are used for systems such as these, do users need to opt in, will these questions have the same answers for different displays?
If we ignore other issues except authentication, how does the display know who you are to display the relevant information? Read a unique ID from your phone, a smart card, or some other wireless unique device? How does this deal with phones being sold, or smart cards being lost? What happens if someone of a criminal nature got hold of young student’s ID card and started stalking the student? Is there a line of how public information must be before it appears on a public display? Even if the display is not in a completely public setting, say it is behind the security check point in a company, who decides the amount of information which is displayed on a screen? The user, or the programmer in charge of the presentation software? If authentication is required before information is shown on a display, does this not ruin the workflow of the display – and would this not also stop frantic late users from approaching the system?
With privacy being a current issue within society, do not public displays get relegated to becoming glorified billboards with the only personal information they will be allowed to show will be that which could be found on the public page of a person? Will the only use of these systems be for when one has lost their phone, and the display is currently free?
Currently I believe the only use of these systems will be gained from location-based advertising – where content is changed based on the demographic of people around it and the time of day.
A different model
If we are looking into the future (a trait which many scientists are likely to do) there is another model which is what I believe public interacting displays should be tending towards.
By dissecting the mission of a public display it can be seen that it encompasses two functions.
- Being a dedicated geographical point for a certain type of information or request,
- Having a method to display feedback to the user.
If we look to the future and imagine a hypothetical piece of hardware exists, we can remove point 2 from the list of needed functions – and remove a lot of privacy issues.
We have this technology – albeit in a crude way – at the moment. A personal screen. Currently, this tend to be a smart phone/device of some sort. These tend to have authentication when they are switched on, via a pass code. They even support banking systems which – one would hope – worry about the security of the device in question.
The limitations of these devices are their size and resolution. A personal screen of 4 inches isn’t brilliant, so let us create a hypothetical product to facilitate this model. Imagine a pair of glasses which could project upon its lenses virtual displays at any arbitrary projection and geometry to simulate real life displays. They could even be simulated on static points in the real world, needing a user to be close to it for it to be used – as in real life. The simulated displays would be displaying what ever the public display wanted to – by virtue of its number 1 function: being a dedicated geographical point for a certain type of information or request.
Let’s go back to the 50 people in front of a timetable billboard. With their own personal screen they would be seeing just their timetable, in an almost completely private setting – while still being surrounded by 49 other people. In fact, if wireless communication density is sufficiently high, it could replace conventional screens on desks, on phones, all together. With regards to public billboards though, advertisers would be able to get what they have always wanted – a message directly to who they want it to go to.
This is of course all conjecture, but I think it should be where the domain should be heading.