Typically, your smartphone and PC’s operating system use the same type of interface. A Graphical User Interface. But lots of other devices and software programs use different types of user interface.
In this lesson, we’ll learn about:
Once upon a time, the text-based interface was the only way we could interact with a computer system. Old operating systems would simply display a plain black background with white text on it and everything you did on that computer involved typing text commands to tell the computer what to do.
That’s exactly what a text-based interface is. It involves text on a plain background and requires the user to type in commands via a keyboard to input instructions.
Typically we don’t use this type of interface anymore, but you can find it in use in some places. For example, have you ever used the Command Prompt program on your Windows computer (or Terminal on your MAC)? If you have, you would know it looks just like the image below in figure 1.
This is a text-based interface and is used by many technical computer users to perform complex tasks more quickly. However, it wouldn’t be a good user interface for most of us to use, as we wouldn’t know what commands to enter.
Looking at the above examples can you see why more technical users might like a text-based interface? There are lots of commands in programs like Command Prompt that perform tasks, that would require you to navigate between loads of windows to perform in a graphical interface, but in the text-based interface is just one command.
ipconfig in Command Prompt will output all of your basic IP information in a single command. How would you get the same information using Windows’ graphical interface?
“This is so sad! Alexa, play Despacito.”. You probably know the meme, but do you know this is an example of a speech interface? Yes, because the Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that takes commands (typically each command starts by saying “Alexa”) via a speech interface.
This is the idea behind a speech (or natural language) interface. Users will input commands verbally using a microphone. Output is often auditory too, such as with smart speakers, though not always.
For example, in-car satnav systems might use a speech interface to ask it to plan a route. This allows us to use the car satnav safely while driving, as otherwise we’ll be busy looking at a screen and pressing buttons which could distract us and make us crash.
As we’ve mentioned, this type of interface is heavily used in smart speakers to make it really convenient to perform tasks, like turning on some music or controlling smart home devices (like smart central heating). It’s also really useful for controlling in-car systems so we aren’t distracted by a screen when we want to plan a route, phone someone or turn on some music.
Where else might a speech interface be used that would be beneficial? Could a pilot use it on a plane? If not, why not?
So to summarise what we’ve learnt in this lesson: