The way a person interacts and commands a computer, tablet, smartphone or other electronic device. The user interface (UI) comprises the screen menus and icons, keyboard shortcuts, mouse and gesture movements, command language and online help, as well as physical buttons, dials and levers. Also included are the physical components, such as the mouse, keyboard, touchscreen, remote and game controllers.Command Line vs. GUIThe user interface in the earliest computers comprised buttons and dials. Although the first personal computers had screens, the computer was operated by typing text commands. Starting with the Mac in 1984 and Windows 3.0 in 1990, the mouse-oriented graphical user interface (GUI) emerged, which simulates a desktop environment. See GUI and desktop environment.The Bar Was Set LowThe user interface is the most important, yet least-understood area in the tech industry. Every application has only a handful of basic functions that users need all the time, yet they are often buried in different submenus that are not intuitive. Worse yet, once bad examples are set by major vendors, others follow like sheep. Since popular applications are often hard to learn, users have come to expect that using software has to be difficult, when in fact, it could be downright simple if educated designers were involved. One glimmer of light was the advent of the smartphone. Its small screen forces designers to think more about usability, but not always. Smartphone apps can be just as obtuse to use as desktop apps. See good user interface and first-time user menu.Users Are Reluctant to ChangeBecause of the steep learning curves people have to endure, many are disinclined to change applications. While the software industry constantly touts "productivity gains" for every new product, the lost hours figuring out how to do something, combined with the gun-shy reluctance to actually try a different product that might really be an improvement often impede productivity.Ask and Ye Shall ReceiveVoice and natural language input and verbal output are increasingly standard components of the user interface, and they can be an enormous help. However, recognizing human speech and delivering the proper action is a daunting computational task. Sometimes the results people get are fraught with errors and downright laughable. Nevertheless, improvements are expected every year in this arena (see virtual assistant). See RTFM, user experience, naming fiascos, Freedman's law, flat UI, Web rage, HCI and HMI.
The portion of a computer program with which the user interacts, i.e., the interface between a user and a computer program.There are command-line interfaces, menu-driven interfaces, and graphical user interfaces (GUIs). See also GUI.