Could this be the killer app for ultra-spec tablets? Microsoft Surface researcher David Brown is working on a marvelous space app that shows off not only the multi-touch power of Microsoft Surface, but also the computational grunt of the Samsung SUR40 on which it runs - not to mention the majesty of the solar system we live in and the Universe beyond.
Of course, we're all well-acquainted with multi-touch demos by now, but the nuanced gestures in Brown's app, NUIverse, are something else. The name NUIverse is of course an anagram and play on the word universe, with the acronym for natural user interface incorporated. Clever: but nowhere near as clever as the app itself, which does indeed use the sort of familiar NUI gestures smartphone owners everywhere will be used to: grabs, twists, swipes and prods all work much as you'd expect.
But in fact not all the gestures could be considered natural - with some requiring the summoning of elaborate on-screen dials that can be used to control effects ranging from the very subtle - including the field of view of the camera, to the more fundamental - such as the passage of time. But writing about NUIs is like angling about acupuncture (if that's the expression). Probably the thing to do at this point is take a look at Brown demonstrating the app himself:
As coffee tables go, this makes for rather a good one (if also expensive, at US$9,049 including the stand). But one has to wonder if this app will ever see a consumer release. Some of the effects (and the presence of Battlestar Galactica models) hint at heavier-duty applications such as video game development or perhaps even (one day) film special effects.
But we hope the app will see some sort of educational application. The power of the SUR40 is put to great use, rendering thousands of on-screen objects (all the data in the app is supplied by NASA) at a time - and turning on labels for them doesn't appear to appreciably slow it down. And the ability to set the solar system into motion with the speeding slowing and reversing of time means NUIverse is a wonderfully detailed and dynamic clockwork model of our corner of the cosmos. Observing an Earth-rise from the moon's dark side or watching from geosynchronous orbit the ballet of light and shadow play out on the Earth's surface (or at least digital recreations of these things) is compelling enough without need of spaceships.
Another video showing only the on-screen action of the app in use, can be seen below. There. Something the iPad doesn't do. Yet.