Termination: UI, UX… UWhat?

UI, UX… UWhat?


30 August 2017

Text:/ Graeme Hague

Not so far into the future, when a child is born, they’ll be given a slap on the arse, a signed birth certificate — and their first smartphone. Maybe even before this, pregnant women having ‘baby showers’ will be gifted knitted booties, a baby’s rattle and the latest Galaxy 50 iPhone 20… no, wait. They won’t need the rattle, there will be an app for that. Just shake the smartphone and any one of 30 downloadable, customised rattle sounds can be heard. 

Meanwhile, in the Smithsonian Institute, there will be one of those dramatic-looking glass display cabinets surrounded by deep shadows, but otherwise lit with angled downlights. Unseen will be myriad of security measures, including those infrared security beam thingies that only Tom Cruise can avoid (because no other self-respecting covert government agent is that short and believes in Scientology).

Inside the glass cabinet? It will be The Last Surviving Knob (no, not still talking about Tom here). A proper knob, like on a toaster.

Conversations between children and their parents will go something like this:

“What is it, Dad?”

“It’s a knob, son. People used to turn them.”

“Turn them into what?”

‘No, they just turned them… never mind.” 

At that point the concept has become too difficult to explain, a bit like quantum mechanics and Queensland electoral results.


The proliferation of touchscreen controllers and, by extension, apps that let you access systems for yourself, will drive the hardware interface into extinction. No more knobs, no more buttons, no more faders attached to nothing that you can move so annoying vocalists think you’re actually adjusting the foldback volume.

The next step will be no touchscreen stations at all, just smartphone apps. No matter who you are, what you do or where you go, you’ll control everything around you with an app.

This turn of futuristic events is being driven by something happening now. They said the ‘age of entitlement’ is over, but more than anything people expect — even believe they’re entitled to demand — that everything can be controlled by an app. Like, “What do you mean, I’ve got to go push a button on the wall… way over there?” At which point they stab furiously at their smartphone, convinced they can download something to prove you wrong.


In the thinking of many, the worm has turned. Before, if somebody designed a clever piece of equipment of technology, soon afterwards someone else would develop an app to control it remotely. It was all a bit geeky and cool, rather than part of the original plan — a kind of bonus. Now, if something can’t be controlled by an app, it probably won’t get built in the first place.

Things will be difficult for the future: nuclear family of mother, transgender father, one child invited to Mensa and a sibling allergic to every potato crisp on the planet. With everybody having a smartphone, how do you establish a hierarchy of who ultimately controls the fridge, telly and toilet flush?

In the corporate world it’s going to be disastrous. You’ll have a boardroom filled with expensive-suit executives, all with their own smartphones, and all with the same app to control everything. Who gets to decide the level of the lighting? The temperature of the air conditioning? The next slide of the Powerpoint presentation? I mean, sure, somebody will be the boss, but how do you prevent some ambitious Wolf of Wall Street upstart-type from surreptitiously booting up the app under the table too and causing havoc?


Thankfully, we can turn to Game of Thrones for the answer. Just like for everything else.

What will happen is that the CEO, the genuine Head Honcho of Everything, will have a solid gold smartphone with priceless gemstones set around the camera lens, plus it’ll have a long, pointy dagger sticking out the bottom for slashing the throats of anyone not reaching sales targets. Apps on the CEO Gold Smartphone will override everything.

Next, second-in-charge Management will have silver smartphones (no jewellery, but maybe engravings of Donald Trump’s face) and a kind of cheese-knife thing attached that’s handy during finger-food meetings. Their apps will override anything except the CEO.

Last, lowly middle management will have smartphones made of plywood. The apps on these will work, but not very well; in fact the phones aren’t much good for anything except… well, making phone calls.

By the way, everyone will wear lots of armour and helmets, drink gallons of crap red wine, and cleaning up the horse poo in the elevators will be a serious problem.

This, folks, is the near-dystopian world we’ll live in, if we allow the humble knob to vanish from our reality and replace it with an app. Human beings need tactile interaction — like when my wife hit me with a saucepan. We need more levers and number pads. More switches, more sliders, more stuff on the walls.

We need more knobs in the world, not less. (Hmm… maybe I could have put that better…)

Graeme Hague is a domesday knob hoarder. You’ll thank him later. 


the concept has become too difficult to explain, a bit like quantum mechanics and Queensland electoral results


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