iPads have changed the way consumers interact with computers

The multi-touch displays on tablets such as the iPad are changing consumers' expectations about human-computer interactions

The multitouch displays and portable computing power of tablets, popularized by Apple's iPad, are revolutionising consumers' expectations about human-computer interactions.

Keyboards and mice have been the primary input devices for computers for years, but today's tech-savvy computer users are becoming even more accustomed to the touch screens on their smartphone, tablet and in-car navigation system.

Their children, who have grown up with iPods and tablets, have come to accept such technology as a computing "standard" and expect the other gadgets they interact with to exhibit the same multitouch user interfaces.

In a special report titled "iPad and Beyond: What the Future of Computing Holds," research firm Gartner reveals that the "iPad effect" has greatly influenced user interface design within the hardware industry and is changing what users expect from their computing devices.

"During the next five to 10 years, media tablets will instigate change in computing form factors; modular designs will enable tablets to take on new functions, becoming the cross-platform controller and brain for hybrid consumer electronics and computers," said Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner, in the October 10 report.

"Tablets will be substitutes for several of the consumer electronics consumers often carry with them. Thin-and-light mobile PCs with tablet-like features will become mainstream, pushing out some bulkier PC styles that have been the norm."

The trend can already be evidenced among the emerging range of Ultrabooks (thin, light, inexpensive and design-focused laptops), multitouch smartphones that can pair up with other devices, and the recent emergence of smart, multitouch TVs.

"Other hybrid designs leverage the flexibility of tablets to become the brains of consumer electronic devices," Ms. McIntyre said. "One tablet can replace multiple dedicated electronics devices by connecting with different peripherals. Tablets docked in the dashboards of cars can replace dedicated navigation devices and in-car entertainment, and environmental controls. Wirelessly connect a blood pressure cuff, a bathroom scale and an oximeter to a tablet to create a home health monitor that can plot personal health trends and send the data to a doctor. Mount a tablet into a projector, and it becomes digital signage in a retail store or a device for streaming media via the Internet."

While Gartner focuses its attention on the impact multitouch user interfaces will have on the future of the computer industry, Apple’s soon to be released AI personal assistant, Siri, has the potential to disrupt human-computer interactions in a more life-changing way -- especially for vision-impaired or mobility-reduced users.

Siri is not the first piece of advanced technology that lets users interact with their device using just their voice, but it is one of the few human-computer interfaces that can understand and respond to concepts spoken in natural language.

TUAW provides a (non-comprehensive) list of sample phrases you can ask Siri.

Siri gives users a glimpse at a feature that could potentially replace the need for touchscreen interfaces in the far-off future. -- AFP RELAXNEWS