What exactly is a tangible interface?

The Feature interviews Matt Jones:

Matt_jones Matt Jones and Chris Heathcote are Nokia’s oracles. Officially, Jones is a concept development manager and Heathcote is a user experience manager in Nokia’s Insight & Foresight group. Unofficially, the two are inciting a revolution in the way we interact with our mobile devices, and each other. At last week’s Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, they wowed the crowd with a demonstration of a Nokia’s Near Field Communication, a cell phone shell containing a reader for wireless electronic tags. According to the researchers, NFC isn’t just another wireless standard though. Rather, it’s a harbinger of the “tangible interfaces” to come.

TheFeature: What exactly is a tangible interface?

Jones: We’re trying to come up with ways to rethink and remap the idioms of computing and communications that have traditionally been tied to the desktop and laptop so that they work better in the contexts in which people use smart phones. Embodied interaction through tangible interfaces is one way to do that.

TheFeature: Can you give a concrete example?

Jones: We’re looking at how touch can be used to execute a number of tasks or interactions so you don’t have to switch contexts from the real world to the world inside the screen. For instance, one person could touch his device to someone else’s and give them a “digital gift,” to borrow a phrase from our old boss Marko Ahtisaari. That digital gift might be something as simple as a URL or a photo that I’ve taken of a moment we just shared.

TheFeature: Awww. That’s sweet.

Jones: Well, I don’t want to get too Hallmark about it. All joking aside though, the touch technology provides measurable quantitative differences in the efficiency by which people can complete that kind of task. In terms of the measurements that people wearing white coats take inside usability labs, touch technology could reduce the number of interactions required by an order of magnitude.

More here.