These days, multiple monitors are becoming the norm instead of the exception. And with most interfaces designed to capture your attention — everywhere and at all costs — the constant barrage of blinking windows, beeping notifications and bouncing icons can be distracting if not entirely overwhelming. New Windows software, Diff Displays, wants to fix this by making sure you're focused on the information you need and nothing else.
With the aid of an eye-tracking program, researchers at the University of St Andrews created the software to intuitively dim and freeze monitors the user is no longer focused on and adjusts the highlighted display. As the user's gaze shifts, so does the highlighted display. And although eye-tracking technology may still be in its relative infancy, Per Ola Kristensson, a lecturer at St Andrews and one of the system's creators, proudly boasts a 98 per cent accuracy at detecting lines of vision.
The program offers four different methods of visualising information, all of which are described in detail in the video above. However user testing showed that the "Pixmap" technique, which highlights information on a pixel level, offers the most effective balance in information density and level of intrusiveness. Any changes on the screen leave a bordering-on-psychedelic white trail of pixels in its wake, so you know exactly what's been updated and where, allowing you to focus your attention on the places that matter and save time, in turn.
The remaining three techniques offer some variation on this, and even though Pixmap may be the most highly rated, Ola assures that "all of the visualisation reduced the number of times a user switched attention between displays by about half." With these types of attention-focusing techniques, users don't have to worry as much about what they might be missing on other screens, which leads to less frantic eye darting and more (actually substantive) information consumption.
It's only a matter of time before more programs start following in Diff Displays' footsteps, but for now, if you're one of the many daily users of multiple displays, you'll probably want to head over to the University of St Andrews Computer Human Interaction website, where you can download the Windows software for free. [MIT Technology Review]