The touch screen — interface of the future or gimmicky marketing headache?
When the first touch screen interfaces came out (at least in a big consumer kind of way) it was in smartphones. Sure there have been other instances of touch screen interfaces (ATM machines, TV remotes, etc.) but no touch screen application has ever become so prolific, so fast, as did the smartphone touch screen. It seemed like overnight we began seeing every sort of tech device coming to us with a touch screen built into it, so much so that the usefulness became very hit or miss.
In general, I attribute a touch screen to be an extension of my fingers. Tap, swipe, bump; whatever you can do with your fingers, a touch screen is readily available to turn into a function. But some applications of the technology are simply irritating to no end.
Take the new crop of touch screen laptops. A touch screen — on a laptop… really?
Now let’s harken back to the usefulness of the touch screen… useful for fingers, not hands, not feet. Functionality based on the mechanics of how our fingers work. If I’m leaning over a keyboard, am I really in the mood to be moving my arm around, to tap on a screen? Didn’t the industry learn from the flub that was the HP Touchsmart computer? Customers left and right complained about sore wrists, tired arms, and tennis elbow from having to hover their arms over the keyboard just to tap and swipe the screen. It was an ergonomics nightmare. Try holding your arm out straight for about 60 seconds, and you’ll get the gist of the problem.
But leave it to marketing people to ignore history, just to try and make a dollar.
It surprises me that more people aren’t complaining about their laptop touch screens. I curse mine every day (it’s a work computer — I would never buy one for myself) every time I go to point at something on the screen for a client, and have the screen minimize or a browser pop up out of nowhere!!!
Now granted, I did buy a Microsoft Surface tablet, which is a tablet, not a laptop. Tablets are defined by their use of a touch screen. So by that definition, they are typically smaller than laptops, more portable and also provide a touch interface for a device that, like a smartphone, is typically handheld. So Windows 8 also has a touch interface in Metro, but if I’m lugging a 17″ laptop in my arms, can you imagine having to tap the screen and that bad boy? Neither can I. It’s just not intuitive, and in fact, it’s downright clumsy.
Touch screens are most intuitive with devices scaled for ergonomics (read, hands). Touch screens on laptops are no more sensible than would be touch screen on a TV set or a refrigerator. Sure, there are large touch screen-enabled devices like cash registers, but when’s the last time you had to carry a cash register around with you?
Touch screens are a cool technology. But like any technology, you have to consider the application to find success in both adoption and future use. Tech companies need to stop throwing new technologies into every device, to see what “sticks.” The last thing that end users want is to have to “deal” with a technology instead of benefit from it.
Ultimately, the touch screen has a niche in smartphones for obvious reasons. Some devices benefit from them, while others suffer from them. The industry should take a hint from this.
… because If I ever see a touch screen on a urinal or toilet, I’m going to be pissed.