Physical Apps
About Discrete & Tangible Displays

We all love the information provided to us by computers and mobile devices. These bits of information are sent over the web and include messages friends and family, upcoming events, the weather report, our bank balance, the latest news headline, a ‘like’ on Facebook, etc.

However, it is a happenstance that we access most of this information through glowing screens: reading small text in web pages and looking at icons in software apps. We would argue that this is not the most desirable or appropriate method of creating awareness of the information.

In response, some product developers are creating ‘calm computing’ devices. Calm Computing (also called Ubiquitous Computing) was an area of computing coined by the late Mark Weiser. During one of his talks, Weiser outlined a set of principles describing this field:

  • The purpose of a computer is to help you do something else.
  • The best computer is a quiet, invisible servant.
  • The more you can do by intuition the smarter you are; the computer should extend your unconscious.
  • Technology should create calm.
  • Weiser also once said, “Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.”.

    In our terms, a future of calm computing involves a slow, methodical, dis-assembly of the personal computer as the central information retrieval device in one’s life, and starts to embed that information retrieval capability into devices in our environment. In our home. In our office. In our bathroom. In our _____. It is already starting to happen with a number of devices on the market.

    We are defining a type of product called a Physical App. Like a software app, a physical app is a calm computing device in your life that does just one, very important or personal thing. A physical app is also part of a device platform that leaves room for other devices providing equally important but different pieces of information. For example, the Weather Forecast app sits next to the Appointment Reminder app.

    It is not a gadget or even a tool necessarily. It’s more of a talisman. It communicates its purpose in the most intuitive way possible and it relays and receives information in an intuitive manner. Ideally, these objects are honest, and the technology that runs them is seamless and almost magical. The idea is to create an object of wonder that gives its user the information they want in a calm way.

    Requirements/Defining Elements of Calm Computing products:

  • Can operate at the center and periphery of your attention
  • Brings more detail to the periphery
  • Adds an element to the physical world
  • Embodies technology in something other than a screen
  • Appeals to multiple senses
    Industrial Design
    Electrical Engineering
    Software Programming
    Market Research & Customer Insight
    An exploration on how humans can physically perceive types of digital information.