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OK. So audio-only interfaces didn't happen as much as I was speculating here.

Good thing I didn't waste my time on them. :-)

About ten years ago I was seriously wondering whether I should give up attempting a PhD in ArtificialLife and switch to studying UIs for an audio-only computer. Such a device would have buttons, speech input, but no screen.

Why? Because I figured we needed computers in situations where our eyes were busy doing other things : like driving and walking on the street. And because, at the time, screens looked an expensive luxury. (Expensive particularly in battery power)

Soon after, the price of screens went down, everyone was using pen-based PDAs, and I figured any ideas for an audio-only computer had been overrun by the juggernaught of history.

However, 2005 looks like being the year of audio. And discussion about interfaces to audio are extremely hot. (As are businesses which deal with it.)

Interestingly, this isn't coming from mobile phone companies, who've tended to push for expanding cell-phones in a more visual direction with larger coloured screens, cameras, games etc. The audio is driven by

  • PodCasting (and I suppose iPod-like music collections)
  • VOIP / internet based telephony. (eg Skype )

Yesterday I heard that EBay had bought Skype, which has triggered plenty of discussion. My assumption is that this is about Skype / PayPal merger. (PayPal is already owned by EBay). The intriguing idea is that it should be as easy to pass money by InstantMessaging to another person as to hand them a note. This would increase the fluidity of a lot of economic transactions at a distance. It would open up the possibility of buying services from real humans, by the minute, over the phone, from anyone in the world. Something that might work for legal or medical advice, or even personal tuition. Why have explicit call-centres when anyone can set themselves up as a consultant? Everyone can set themselves up as a premium rate phone-call. Maybe with a voice-bot on your desktop to field easy queries before alerting you to the ones which you need to handle personally .

Online payment merged with phones calls is more than just charging a rate for the call itself. It should allow money to be passed from one speaker to another, as easily as Skype allows files to be passed. It should even provide a kind of escrow, allowing two people who don't know each other well to pass money for some kind of service. Eg. you Skype me, put your money into escrow, I send you the file.

At the same time, there's podcasting : a rapidly evolving eco-system of people providing various kinds of spoken-word content and music and various listeners capturing it and using it away from the computer. Podcasting makes new requirement for tools for listening, for recording (especially on the move), for editing, for finer-grained addressing of particular parts of the audiostream.

These two audio-ecosystems should get combined into a platform containing both static and dynamic chunks of audio, hyperlinked, with the option to connect to other people, live and sometimes pay them. On a mobile device.

Elsewhere :

See also :

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