No More Zero UI…That’s HUI

On my science and tech podcast–Sovryn Tech–I’ve been bringing up for a while (including very recently) the concept of “Zero User Interface” or “Zero UI”. It’s a simple concept that has been around for a very long time, even if the name hasn’t. The idea is to remove the screen and/or physical controls for a device or computational operation. Consider in Star Trek how they talk to the Enterprise‘s main computer and it gives them information or performs some type of action automatically. This is Zero UI, and technologies like the Amazon Echo, Microsoft Kinect, and even Google GLASS are all very real, modern examples of this.


For those that do listen to Sovryn Tech, you’ll know that I’m largely not a fan of this technology. Not to say that voice-activated or motion controls are inherently bad (technology is a tool, it’s all in how you use it), but I do think that when it is the only way for consumers to use devices and software that they purchase, that becomes a problem. Lack of choice is by default a lack of freedom. Zero UI also makes repair by the owner/consumer nearly impossible, and that by default is a lack of control.

I could go on forever about why I don’t like Zero UI. When you don’t have a hardware switch, you don’t–readily–really know that you actually turned off WiFi on your device (ThinkPad’s used to have these hardware switches only until very recently), for example. But the bottom line for me is that a world where you don’t have a physical (as in a keyboard, hardware switch, etc.) user interface, you don’t really have control. And if it’s a cloud-reliant service or device, you are doubling down on not really having control over what you are using, you are handing it over to your new overlords at Alphabet/Google or Apple (seriously, this is Google X head Astro Teller’s wet dream). Seriously, none of this allows for DAPS best practices, and it is anathema to Dark Android Project purposes as it is taking real choice and control away from the user.

So, with all of this in mind, I have decided to coin a new term to replace “Zero UI”. I’m calling it “Handless User Interface” or “HUI” (pronounced “hooey“, not the letters “H-U-I” separately)…because that’s what I think of Zero UI…it’s a bunch of hooey.

Yeah, yeah, I now you still wave your hands around to interact with HUI–so handless isn’t perfectly accurate–but it is true that you’re not touching anything with your hands, which is how traditional user interfaces work. Thus the “Handless” in “HUI”. So from now on, when I’m discussing something that many people are now calling Zero UI, I will be calling it HUI. And you’re welcome to do the same.

As I said before, Zero UI–or, HUI–can definitely be done in concert with some kind of physical UI. and it’s even better if it’s not cloud-reliant (remember, there’s no such as “The Cloud”, there’s only someone else’s computer, and do you want your data on someone else’s computer?).  If something is designed with a touchless interface as an option (so it isn’t the only way to use it), maybe we could differentiate it from HUI by calling it “TUI” (“Touchless User Interface”), that way it doesn’t carry the insult. But I think it’s readily apparent that these kind of interfaces being optional is not the direction that our apps, services, and devices are going.

And I think that’s a bunch of HUI…err…hooey.

Carpe lucem!