Back in 2007, I took note of the BumpTop animated desktop replacement interface, which takes advantage of modern machines' 3D graphics capabilities to provide an even more realistic interpretation of manipulating information. I contrasted BumpTop's literal interface to a more 'magical' approach, where user and machine actions have no 'real world' parallels. I picked Google as an exemplar of this style, where entering the right 'magic words' can cause information from anywhere in the world to appear; algorithm, not metaphor, has been the root of Google's fantastic success.
So while I'm off on vacation, Google up and buys BumpTop, and withdraws its product from the market. Most of the press and blog coverage, as with the linked article, have focused on the possibility that Google will use BumpTop as a come-back to Apple and other's multi-touch interfaces for pad and smartphone formats. As a competitive posture, it makes some sense, though I'll have to note that the sort of 3D graphical tricks that make BumpTop so appealing comes at a significant cost in processor cycles, which doesn't do anything good for battery life. For that matter, picking up a staff of expert UI designers accustomed to dealing with dynamic displays, in comparison to the usual browser straight-jacket in which Google's designers have had to work, also makes sense.
But I'm intrigued by another possibility, that Google will take an approach hinted at in my prior post, of using its algorithmic prowess to add magic to the literal world of BumpTop. Direct manipulation interfaces have the weakness of requiring user action for every change of state, which has inherent scaling problems when faced with a whole web or cloud of information, most of it unseen and unknown by the user. It's over twenty years since anyone pushed down the path of 'more magic', where the machine collaborates with the user in interpreting interface gestures and words, applying the results to very large information or social spaces. Google's ability to exploit its acquisitions has been extremely erratic in the past, but I hope they aren't overlooking this possibility.