"I Want to Reduce GUI as Much as Possible" --- Toshiyuki Masui, Apple

Jun 26, 2007
Interviewer=Tetsuo Nozawa, Nikkei Electronics
Toshiyuki Masui at home in Silicon Valley (Photo taken by Koichiro Hayashi)
Toshiyuki Masui at home in Silicon Valley (Photo taken by Koichiro Hayashi)
[Click to enlarge image]

Toshiyuki Masui is a well-known Japanese software researcher, having worked both at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. as well as the Japanese Government's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). His master's thesis at the University of Tokyo was on "Automatic Compiler Generation." After joining Fujitsu Ltd. in 1984, he worked at Sharp Corp. and did a stint as a Visiting Researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in the US as well. His move to the Silicon Valley headquarters of Apple Inc. in October 2006 was a bit of a shock to the Japanese software field.


Since high school, I have been interested in software, including programming using assembly language. At Fujitsu, I was engaged in the development of semiconductors, in other words, hardware, but my passion for software grew so strong that I moved over to Sharp. At Sharp, I became involved in the development of proprietary GUIs for word processors and since then I've been called to one company after another.

My move to Apple started with an unexpected call asking me to "come and have a chat" in May 2006. I only intended to go and see what Apple was like, but it turned out that my interview with Apple managers also included their CEO, Steve Jobs. What is great about Apple is that a new idea for software could be quickly made into a application running on a terminal. The company has prepared a functional environment, where newcomers can immediately start their jobs. Nevertheless, Apple is also filled with a kind of family atmosphere and employees sometimes go on picnic together in a similar fashion to Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe area) based Japanese firms.

Predictive Entry Derived from Research on Search Technologies

"Predictive entry," which is currently used in most mobile phones in Japan, is technology I developed around 1996 while I was at Sony Computer Science Laboratories. At that time, I was studying "ambiguity search," which narrows the search target using information such as the beginning of the word and statistics, and was aimed at reducing the number of typing strokes needed when looking up a word using word processors and PCs. It was then I suddenly noticed this technology could be applied not only to dictionary search, but also to the entry of general sentences, and predictive entry technology began.

One of the reasons why predictive entry became so successful is that I employed a simple algorithms showing recently and often used words at the top of the word list. There had been other algorithms to contextually predict text entry before, but they faced difficulties in quickly displaying desired words and sentences because they were programmed with rather too many factors to consider.

After that, "real-world GUI" has become my major research theme. This technology is aimed at minimizing the number of existing GUIs by allowing items such as home appliances to be operated by direct operation. For example, if you consider an alarm clock, which can be set only by adjusting its hands, there would be no need for a complicated GUI to set the time to record a video. What is important is to operate the equipment by actually touching it. Using a switch on a wall to turn on a light on the ceiling is still indirect. That is because, when using it, you must keep the relationship between the switch and the lighting system in your mind. Applying all types of sensors to computer and real-world interfaces might be a possible path to take. There used to be research on how to make the GUI of train ticket vending machines easier, but this research has become less meaningful after the emergence of "Suica1)" and other contactless IC cards.

1) Suica is a contactless rechargeable smart money card which can be used in train lines in Japan as well as in certain shops.