Window 8 Touch

Touch interfaces – Not coming to a big screen near you

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windows8_touchIt’s nearly impossible to go through your day without using a touch interface of some sort. Your phone, your tablet, the ATM, even my Mom’s new oven has a touch interface. Will we see our laptop and desktop computers cross over to the touch realm as well? Though it seems inevitable, David Pogue makes the case in Scientific American as to Why Touch Screens Will Not Take Over.

Microsoft recently doubled-down on touch interfaces with it’s new Windows 8 operating system. Microsoft has hinted at this future of computing for quite some time now with a crowd-pleasing 30″ touchscreen table concept called the Surface (not the new 10″ tablet bearing the same name). They also see touch interfaces as a continuing theme in human-computer interaction as demonstrated in their 2011 Productivity Future Vision concept video. While their utopian vision of the future sported a high production value, not all critics were convinced it was accurate. Certainly not Fast Company. Even more scathing was  Bret Victor’s widely read article A brief rant on the future of interaction design. Central to his argument is that human hands are frikkin’ amazing and by only allowing users to clumsily tap and swipe with a single digit ignores the brilliance of our ability to interact as we do in the physical world.

Another company is also betting heavily on the future of touch screen interaction. Tesla Motors launched their Model S electric sedan this year and the world took notice. Specifically Motor Trend Magazine, which awarded it ‘2013 Car of the Year.’ One of the most notable features of the car is the behemoth 17″ touch screen which replaces the traditional center console. You can control pretty much every aspect of the vehicle from this interface, but in a vehicle that rockets from 0-60mph in less than 4 seconds, I wouldn’t recommend adjusting the air or changing music tracks while at speed as you would have to divert your eyes from the road to look at the screen. If I were to write a not-so-brief rant on the future of vehicle interaction, it would be in defense of buttons. Buttons that allow me to twist, toggle, tune and turn-on all without looking away from the road.

In both examples of companies putting all their marbles into the future of touch screens, I don’t disagree that touch is here to stay, but I think we as designers need to figure a few things out before we get it right. First, better consideration of context. In the example of Tesla, using a large touchscreen interface while operating an electric muscle car is likely not the wisest move. This is an example of where a tactile interface makes sense. In Microsoft’s example the touchscreen interface works incredibly well for handheld devices, but when scaled up to a large screen at work we encounter issues of human fatigue and the need for an input device, namely a keyboard. Touch typing won’t be a reality until we can add tactility to touchscreens, like these guys are attempting to do.

I’m curious to see what advances touchscreen technologies will bring in the next few years. Will Microsoft’s bet pay off? Will Apple bring touch to the big screen in response? Will Google prove them both wrong and have us instead talking to our computers? I’ll leave you with this image to ponder my last question…

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.


Photo Credits: Windows 8 – TechBeat. 2001 A Space Odyssey, MGM.

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This post was written by Jason Grant

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