08 January, 2009

Can Contextual UIs Go Mainstream?

Crossing the chasm is a tricky thing and many cool technologies that are endorsed by early adopters fail to do it. Even though simple, contextual UIs make sense, the old UIs are still holding on strong. One of the early examples of a company that has adopted the new approach to user interfaces that we found is the Hertz car rental site. Hertz had one of the less user-friendly sites around, with a dull, "click-to-load next page" sort of UI. Their new web site features an intelligent contextual UI, which enhances and simplifies the process of reserving a car.

For the transition to happen the new approach needs to be embraced by more mainstream web sites. Will they go for it? The answer depends on whether they will think that the new UI approach, with contextual choices, is more complicated. Certainly there will be people who will say that consumers are not smart enough to figure out where to click. The concerns might be amplified by the fact that each contextual UI is unique and so won't be familiar across the board for users the way the old UIs were. Still, it seems, based on our experiences over the past few years and on the impressive track record of Apple products, that simple, contextual UI have a chance to finally win out over their complicated Windows rivals.

What do you think - can contextual UIs become the new standard for creating user interfaces? What are your favorite contextual UI elements?