Research in Motion announced this morning that it acquired Swedish interface design firm TAT, whose initials stand for The Astonishing Tribe. That could make future BlackBerry phones—not to mention the upcoming Playbook tablet—a whole lot more exciting.
RIM clearly plans to use the Swedes' talent to beef up future versions of the BlackBerry user interface, which despite the addition of touchscreen tech in the last year still seems clunky and quaint compared to iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7.
That got us wondering: What might the future, TAT-enhanced BlackBerry UI look like?
We have no idea, but if these concept videos produced by TAT are any indication, we're guessing your next BlackBerry might have:
• A touch- and motion-sensitive UI that responds to your body's movement as well as your fingers on the screen
• Eye-tracking technology to provide enhanced 3-D effects
• A slicker, easier-to-manage interface for switching between multiple apps
• Eye-popping 2-D and 3-D visuals
TAT's vision of the "Future of Screen Technology" includes some pretty eye-popping examples of touchscreens embedded into every aspect of daily life. A man wakes up and checks the news on a stretchable screen that starts out iPhone-sized, but which he pulls on to make it nearly iPad-sized. A woman brushes her teeth while reading headlines and checking her calendar on a touchscreen mirror. A man composes a sport publication on a translucent touchscreen display whose images he can flip around, so coworkers on the other side of the screen can see them. Cool stuff!
This concept video shows how 2-D and 3-D graphics could be combined in a real-time map display: As you tilt the phone, it shifts from a 2-D map to a 3-D rendering of the real world, with labels superimposed over the images of the buildings in front of you. Select your destination by tapping on it, tilt the phone back to horizontal, and a 2-D map reappears, with directions to the spot you want to go.
TAT's concept video for an enhanced 3-D display makes it look as if the icons and dialog boxes on your smartphone are "floating" above the display. As you tilt the phone back and forth, the shadows move appropriately, emphasizing the sense of depth. (To everyone else, it just looks like you're wiggling your phone back and forth while staring at it with a curious intensity.)
TAT's "Glassy" user interface is a demonstration of how even midrange feature phones can have snazzy, Apple-like user interfaces. In this video, someone with a generic Nokia phone gets a spiffy Cover Flow-like album browser.
The "Juggle" user interface from TAT is a way of making it easy for users to switch from app to app, via a sort of floating desktop. Once you're inside an app, you can bring up a curved list of other apps by swiping your finger along the edge of the screen.
TAT's concept for "augmented identity" would use face recognition to identify people, then superimpose links to their social networking profiles so you can find out more about them. Usefully, the concept would let you select which of your social networks appear at any given time, so you could highlight your YouTube channel when you're out partying, but replace it with your LinkedIn profile when you're giving a presentation at work.
Most of TAT's design work involves custom user interfaces and widgets for phone manufacturers. But the company recently released three live wallpaper schemes for Android devices: Artemia, an undersea landscape; Blue Range, an isometric landscape with cartoon bears and foxes (shown here); and Retro Pixels, a wallpaper reminiscent of an old videogame. All three are free and are available in the Android Market.