Touch Tech Review

August 14, 2009

Waxing Philosophical on the Touch Interface

Lately with the rumors of the tablet floating around I have been asking myself what is the future of touch technology? There is a lot of buzz around the touch technologies and how everything will be moving that direction. Everyone expects to see a touch tablet from Apple before the end of the year and maybe even as soon as the end of this month. We know OS X has been having more and more touch commands integrated in to the core OS. This, in fact, is one of the chief evidences that makes people think the new “iTablet”, should it actually come to fruition, will be a Snow Leopard 10” Macbook touch rather than a beefed up 10” iPhone. How useful is touch technology really though? Sure on my quick one off tasks it make sence but I don’t use any application on my phone for much of an extended time. The Word press app may be the one exception and I always wish for a keyboard. Is it something we would want to see make it into our actual desktops and laptops? Would it start replacing major peripherals on those machines?

Short term I do not see a real big market for touch screen as a replacement for anything. A touch screen keyboard is nice on my iPhone and would be nice a tablet. I may keep one mounted in the car or kitchen for some very specialized uses but again most of my tasks will be quick one off tasks. A 10” tablet would be nicer than my iPhone to type on because of the realestate but I still don’t see it as a replacement for my actual keyboard though.

Could the touch screen replace the mouse or touchpad? Again I say no, to the mouse at least, you may be able to talk me into the touchpad. Mice are very precise and even if a touch screen is capable of pinpointing pixels like a mouse your finger isn’t. Our fat little digits block visually precisely where your pointing. I am sure this is the reason the App icons and spacing are the way they are. Apple did the research to get the smallest size people could hit with a finger and not overlap on to another point. I am very thankful for copy and paste on my phone but I think I would throw a computer out the window if I had to select text like that on a device I do real work on. High power games will also keep the mouse around for years until UI changes and people learn to accept new paradigms for control.

The touchpad might be replaced as it is already somewhat clunky to use. It is much less precise than a mouse and often requires repositioning while you use it. I am sure Steve would like to do away with the touchpad and bring the lap top closer to a button free device. I would still like to see a few advances before they fully replace even the touch pad. As it stands double clicking and right clicking are not possible. Both of these have a great deal of significance on a full OS. This, I hope, won’t be done with key commands and touch combinations. Control click for right click already is a lame solution to a two button mouse on the track pad.

Long term however is another story. I do see touch being fully integrated and this will probably come sooner than any of us think. I see the biggest blocker to full touch integration as the inclusion of voice technology. Google Voice is already 100 times better than Dragon Naturally Speaking was 10 years ago but it still isn’t good enough to just spin out text and not have to go back and spend a lot of time correcting or trying to interpret it. Once we can stop typing to put text on a page the keyboard can go way. Even though it is much faster to type than to talk. Typing just isn’t as natural and it binds us very closely to the machine. When voice is the primary driver of the computer they all all tactile elements of the computer can go way except the screen. Some tasks, such as experimenting with layout of a page, you won’t want to do by voice, but will be well suited for a screen touch interaction. I look forward to this day I just sincerely hope it won’t take giant sweeping hand gestures like most movies seem to portray it.

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