I love this prototype by Roy Martens: a set of Sifteo cubes that run Spotify, allowing you to trigger songs by moving the blocks around.
Playing music in ye olde days—vinyl, cassette tape, and hey eight track tape—used to have lots of physical aspects. In today's age of screen-based streaming services, as Martens notes in his 2013 masters' thesis on his project, music management is rather more virtual. So he wanted to bring some physicality back into picking and playing music.
It looks like a lot of fun, judging by the video:
When Sifteo cubes were first released several years ago, they reminded me of the tiny "Post It note" sized computer screens that Mark Weiser, the pioneer in "ubiquitous computing", created back in the early 90s. Weiser advocated for a world where we didn't simply jam every piece of software onto one screen (a phone, a laptop) the way we do now. He thought it would make much more sense to be surrounded by devices doing all manner of things -- some quite tiny and single-purpose, like Marten's cubes. As Weiser wrote:
Ubiquitous computers will also come in different sizes, each suited to a particular task. My colleagues and I have built what we call tabs, pads and boards: inch-scale machines that approximate active Post-It notes, foot-scale ones that behave something like a sheet of paper (or a book or a magazine), and yard-scale displays that are the equivalent of a blackboard or bulletin board.
People built apps for Sifteo cubes, but they seemed mostly to be games. I remember looking at the cubes and thinking, man, games are cool -- but I'd like to see these things used for everyday, work-and-life software. It'd be fun to use them to display messaging -- SMS, DMs, even email from select folks, etc. You could program one to display incoming email only if it comes from a particular person you care about hearing from that day (a friend, your boss, a workmate, your partner) and then carry it with you so you can otherwise ignore your email for hours and get work done. It'd be a fun, handheld version of the multiscreen life of people I wrote about for Wired a few months ago.
If I weren't so lazy I should have just downloaded the Sifteo development kit and built that sort of messaging app myself, heh. Did anyone else ever use Sifteo that way? If so, I'd like to hear from you -- email me!