multihand devices

So Griffey linked, somewhere, to this slide set on hands-per-device. (Go read it; it’s interesting.) Its premise is that our current strategy of designing web content for a variety of devices — based on their different screen sizes — is wrong. Yes, you have to take screen size into account, but a more important factor is hands per device. When people use devices with one hand — be they smartphones or large-screen TVs with remotes — they’re limited in the interactions they can gracefully handle and tend toward quick-reference sorts of actions; two-handed devices lend themselves to more immersive experiences.

So this raises the obvious question: what about three?

No, I don’t plan to sprout any more extra appendages. Bear with me. There are piano compositions for four hands — two players. They require collaboration. And they allow for different kinds of music, with more complexity and range, than the two-handed sort.

So a multi-handed device would be, inherently, a collaboration device — hence a device at home in schools and libraries. And maybe laboratories and movie studios and anywhere that collaborative creativity and problem-solving matters.

Let’s leave aside that I can’t imagine the economies that would make it make sense to design such a device, in a world that inclines ever-more toward personal electronics. (Except maybe I can — any sufficiently large multitouch screen can be a multihand device, with the right software.)

Let’s think instead of the awesome park. This is a new park not far from me, near Harvard Square — its real name is something else but in our house it’s the awesome park. It’s awesome because it was designed by people who didn’t get the memo — you know, the one that says that modern childhood has to be safety-obsessed and sanitized? It has audaciously large climbing structures with nary a net, and big wooden blocks that aren’t even attached to anything, and sand and water and hills, hills built into the park, and there is in fact no place a parent can stand and have a sight line to everything. You have to run around and get down in the sand and play, or you have to let go.

And the kids have to work together. Because the climbing structures are hard, and they need to see how other people attack the problem. And the wooden blocks can turn into palaces or cargo for the Viking ship or — greased with a bit of sand and carted up the hill — a ludicrously fast sled or skateboard. But it’s all big enough or heavy enough or complicated enough that kids acting alone can’t do all the fun things. The obvious, fun things.

The world is a multi-hand device.

6 thoughts on “multihand devices

  1. To be fair, a lot of computer games are designed for 3-hands. (Keyboard, keyboard, mouse). Some accommodations are made because a person can’t (unless you’re using a alternate input source) use all 3 at once. On the other hand, being able to do so would be highly advantageous in-game.

    It wouldn’t be that hard to add eye-tracking software (given most new computers have at least one camera), to add a virtual third limb. Or voice-control to add a fourth; although that would make LAN parties annoying loud.

    (Are they even called LAN parties anymore, given they’re probably wireless? Am I getting old? Is rain still wet?)


    1. Oooooooh, I like the eye-tracking as third-limb idea. Of course that yanks the collaborative element back out, but it has mindbending possibilities…whee!


  2. What’s wrong with using ones feet. I use both feet and both hands when driving my standard transmission auto. Couple that with eye-tracking and voice command, one could have six inputs going simultaneously from a single source.


  3. Now I’m thinking of battleship-Twister-meets-giant-touchscreen. If you put people in physical proximity, you tear down the barrier of “I’m a-gonna sit here all alone with MY thingy and do MY thing”.


  4. I am reminded of the “game room” in Ender’s Game, where children gather around video games during their “down” time to continue their training and competitions in a virtual format. Having devices that encouraged in-person collaborative play has some interesting possibilities. (Also, that park: WOW.)


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