Hardware & Software Influences

Hardware and software will have a large influence on the type of user interface you can use. While some devices will have large screen sizes and powerful processors, others will have no screen at all and very little processing power.

It’s important we consider the available hardware and software when choosing a user interface to ensure that it will be able to run on what is available and will be the most efficient user interface possible.

In this lesson, we’ll learn about how hardware and software influences our use of user interface, including:

  1. Operating systems/platforms
  2. Types/sizes of screen
  3. Types of user input
  4. Hardware resources available
  5. Emerging technologies

1. Operating Systems/Platforms

The operating system is the most important piece of software that you run on your computer. It is the software that allows us to interact with the computer system as it controls the operation of the computer.

An operating system comes with a user interface that allows a user to interact (or interface) with parts of the computer. Typically your operating system’s built-in user interface is a graphical user interface.

This is one of the reasons why users are most comfortable with a GUI, because it’s what they use every day when they use their computer.

The built-in user interface in your operating system will therefore influence what type of interface you will choose when developing a user interface.

Further Thought

What type of user interface did operating systems use before graphical user interfaces? Why do you think that type of interface was used?

2. Types/Sizes of Screen

The type of display, as well as size & resolution, can affect your choice of interface.

Modern computer displays are large and high-resolution, and so can display complex graphical user interfaces. However, older displays, as well as the displays built into many mobile devices do not have large screens and resolutions. This means screen space needs to be managed.

Some graphical users interfaces will adapt to screen size, such as removing certain elements and changing the size of text and icons. But in some situations, it may be that a GUI is not appropriate. This is why smartwatches typically have a simpler menu interface, rather than a full GUI.

Another example of where the type of screen affects the user interface is with touch screens. With these devices, text-based interfaces are not usable, as they don’t have a keyboard but instead use an on-screen keyboard (which requires a GUI to display).

Instead, touch screens are much better suited to a graphical user interface or menu interface.

Another issue to consider in terms of the type of screen is, what if there is no screen at all? For example, a smart speaker. These devices would need an interface that has no visual elements, such as a speech or sensor interface.

Further Thought

How can a user interface be adapted to better support mobile devices like smartphones and tablets? Research this online.

3. Types of User Input

Different input methods suit different interfaces and certain devices will often have specific inputs available. This will therefore have a big impact on the type of interface. Let’s consider some of the most common forms of user input.

  • Keyboard – a keyboard is required for a text-based interface, as you’ll need to type in the commands. So, if you are using a device without a keyboard then a text-based interfaces is automatically excluded as an option.
  • Mouse – this input device is particularly useful for a graphical user interface. It is also useful for a menu interface. Other types of interface have no use for a mouse (though having a mouse doesn’t mean you CAN’T use those other interfaces).
  • Voice – input devices like microphones for taking voice input are absolutely required for a speech interface. So if you don’t have access to a microphone then a speech interface is automatically excluded as an option.
  • Gestures – actions on a touchscreen like pinching and swiping are commonly used in graphical user interfaces. Obviously this is most commonly seen on mobile and tablet devices. This helps make up for some limitations of not having a mouse (for example you can double tap instead of right-click). Gestures wouldn’t be useful for any interface other than a GUI.

Further Thought

What other types of input devices do we use on some devices? What types of input do domestic appliances like washing machines use?

4. Hardware Resources Available

Different types of computers and other digital devices will have different amounts of processing power and memory. For example:

  • A high-end gaming PC might have a 12-core 3.7GHz CPU and 32GB of RAM.
  • A budget smartphone might have a 8-core 2.2GHz CPU and 4GB of RAM.

Older devices will have even less processing power and memory. Domestic appliances, controlling devices and embedded systems will typically have even less as they only do very simple tasks.

This affects the user interface as it will require processing power and memory in order to run, and some interfaces require more processing power and memory than others.

For example, graphical user interfaces will typically have higher requirements than other interfaces, due to the graphics that need to be displayed. Whereas a text-based interface uses no graphics and so will work on very low specification devices.

Of course, different graphical user interfaces will require different specifications. Some modern domestic appliances will have a very simple graphical menu-driven interface. While it does display graphics, these will be much simpler and therefore don’t need as much processing power & memory.

Further Thought

How might the processing power and memory affect game consoles and smart televisions’ user interface?

5. EMerging Technologies

Emerging Technologies Performance

An emerging technology is a technology that is just starting to make an impact in the wider world. New technologies are becoming available all the time and many of these allow us to interact with computers differently.

In particular, we have seen new types of input devices have had an impact on user interfaces. Some examples of this include:

  • Speech Synthesis – in recent years we have developed the ability to understand and interpret natural human language far more effectively. This has lead to an increased growth of speech interfaces in devices, such as on smartphones and smart speakers.
  • Sensors – the quality, affordability and variety of sensors has changed a lot over the years and now we’re seeing sensors being used in all sorts of places. Your smartphone uses several different sensors and many of your smart home devices use sensors. This has lead to a growth in devices using a sensor interface.

There are lots more examples we could look at too. Have you ever seen or read about self-driving cars? One of the technologies these cars use is LIDAR, a type of light-based radar that allows the car to detect the world around it so it can avoid hazards.

Further Thought

What other types of new input devices are being used in the devices we use on a daily basis. Think about virtual reality headsets and the types of inputs you’d use with them.

Lesson Summary

So to summarise what we’ve learnt in this lesson:

  • An operating system comes with a user interface that allows a user to interact (or interface) with parts of the computer.
  • The type of display, as well as size & resolution, can affect your choice of interface. For example, small screen sizes will not work well with a full GUI.
  • Different input methods suit different interfaces and certain devices will often have specific inputs available. For example, not all devices have a keyboard which is needed for a text-based interface.
  • Different types of computers and other digital devices will have different amounts of processing power and memory. Some interfaces require more processing power and memory than others.
  • New technologies are becoming available all the time and many of these allow us to interact with computers differently. For example, speech synthesis has made speech interfaces more common.
Scroll to Top