Touch Interfaces Create a Usability Nightmare

September 14th, 2011 12 Comments

Pretty quick and informative overview of Windows 8.

Everything You Need to Know About Windows 8 in Eight Minutes

Watching the first section, it becomes obvious that users will need to learn the gestures.

I can already imagine what the NNg will have to say.

Touch interfaces aren’t as intuitive as you’d think, beyond the obvious stuff like tapping, swiping and scrolling.

Windows 8 adds another touch interface that users will be exposed to, in addition to iOS and Android. I’m leaving out webOS and Meego on purpose.

The big usability challenge is consistency across OSes, and vendors will have very little incentive to standardize. So, the burden goes on the user, who will now have to remember what multi-finger gesture does what on which OS.

Usability nightmare, and we haven’t even begun to see physiological limitations that will undoubtedly arise.

Compare this to keyboard and mouse, which function pretty similarly on all OSes.

Update: I fear many people think this is no biggie because they are confident they could figure out and remember the differences. Probably, but that’s bad design. 


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12 Responses to “Touch Interfaces Create a Usability Nightmare”

  1. davidhaimes Says:

    Even with mice, we had 1 button, 2 button, scroll wheel, touch pads and those funny things in the middle of the keyboard.  In general people work on one machine and just get used to that, most people will not have an iPad a windows 8 and an Android device so I don’t think it is such a big issue really.

  2. Jake Says:

    It is a big deal.

    Like it or not, touch devices are being pushed on us, and lots of people have a smartphone (Android or iOS) and a traditional laptop/desktop, very likely a couple they use, e.g. work and home. 

    Right now, you interact w a keyboard and mouse on some, w your fingers on the other, but as touch-based OSes are pushed on us, don’t expect that distinction to remain. 

    So, people will have to learn and remember what gestures do what on which devices. It’s madness. Apple has already started this problem w Lion, which OOTB scrolls in reverse to match gestures. This is Bizarro when you’re using a mouse w a scroll wheel.

    It’s not like multi-button mice either. Those are all pointing devices on all machines; sure, they have slightly different behavior, but they all point and click. The same gesture could do completely different things on different OSes.

  3. uvox Says:

    Ironically, with all this natural user interface stuff, remembering all those gestures and the rest will soon be a higher cognitive load than remember a ton of switches and parameters from ye olde command line days. you have to wonder about how older users (and yes, we’re all getting older) will deal with this stuff as well as the general accessibility issues it could present.

  4. Jake Says:

    Yup, that’s the problem and good on ya for pointing out the irony of it all. Touch is intuitive, but beyond basic gestures, it’s all learned behavior, very similar to CLIs. I like that comparison, must borrow it w attribution. CC-BY?

  5. davidhaimes Says:

    Fair point (no pun intended) the possible gestures on a touch or motion sensor interface are huge.  However mice do more than point and click, they scroll, double click, right click, two button click or activate a hot corner and we have programmable buttons, gesture on track pads and use shortcut keys (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V).

  6. davidhaimes Says:

    Fair point (no pun intended) the possible gestures on a touch or motion sensor interface are huge.  However mice do more than point and click, they scroll, double click, right click, two button click or activate a hot corner and we have programmable buttons, gesture on track pads and use shortcut keys (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V).

  7. Jake Says:

    Sure, but such advanced mice are peripherals, not integral parts of the OS. If I walk up to a computer w a mouse, I know it will do a basic set of operations (move the cursor, click objects), regardless of the OS. 

    The additional stuff you mention is optional, not baked into the OS. If you don’t like some nuanced behavior, you can use a standard mouse. You don’t have a choice w gestures.

  8. uvox Says:

    I cannot find the source of the CLI-NUI observation (I have have even posted it on appslab before and used it a few times).

  9. Jake Says:

    Don’t recall reading it here. I meant attribution to you :)

  10. uvox Says:

    Oh right. Natch. Go for it. Usual paypal address for royalties. Funny, I thought I had used the reference in my PhD proposal, but when I checked, I hadn’t. I thought it might have been inspired by John Cartan (http://blogs.oracle.com/usableapps/entry/ipads_natural_user_interface_a), but no. Very strange. I’ll claim it so!

  11. Jake Says:

    Heh, no royalties from a CC license. So, I’ll use that.

  12. Stoked for Windows 8 « oracle fusion identity Says:

    […] actually surprised that he praises Windows 8 for avoiding (or ameliorating) the inconsistencies that have become rampant among gesture-based operating systems. Jakob Nielsen and I have criticized […]

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