Q: Are there any good, open user interface options?

Yesterday I was in our Atrium, and Craig had his iPad with him. I got into a discussion with him and Loren about why I thought the device was very cool. (I also told them why I had been actively discouraged from becoming an iPhone developer earlier, but that’s a story for a different time.) But I brought up a point which I’ve been kind of mulling over ever since: the iPad (and iPhone) may be the first not-completely-user-hostile-interface ever delivered in a consumer electronic device.

Consider your TV set and its remote as a counter example. On virtually every television ever made, there are two ways to select what channel you wish to watch: by going up and down, or by entering a channel number. There is no more reason to select channels this way than there would be for you to access your online photos by number, or by paging through them one at a time. And yet, for decades, no TV manufacturer has sought to upgrade this very simple, basic interaction that you have with a television. Is there really any reason at all for you to use channel numbers for anything? They add ten buttons to your television remote. Wouldn’t it be nice to remove that space, and use it to make the buttons you actually do use larger, and differentiated so you could actually use them in the dark? And how about those buttons to scroll up and down lists? Wouldn’t you just like to point at what you want? The Nintendo Wii uses a nice IR sensor system to select items: imagine of that technology were merged with your remote, along with accelerometers and the like. If Nintendo can profitably make these as options in a $250 game system, you’d think that that kind of technology could be used in other consumer electronics.

And don’t even get me started about devices like Blu Ray players. Why do I need a different remote? And a completely different system of conventions and menu selections. Bleh.

Okay, I’m getting a bit astray. The iPad has already demoed some really, really nifty applications with interesting, intuitive interfaces. But while I have defended the iPhone/iPad as a consumer device, I am not really all the enthusiastic about doing my own programming and experimentation with such a device. So, I thought I might throw out this question: imagine that you were going to prototype improved interfaces for media devices. Are there any open source options that are worth considering, or are they all terrible? I’m considering a platform like the Acer Revo, hooked to a large screen TV using HDMI, and possibly some wireless bluetooth devices (or maybe just the Wii remote). Anyone have any experience/success with this kind of interactive UI programming?