Pushing Everyone to Touch Computing

There’s an excellent chance I’m being a complete fuddy-duddy, waving my arms and yelling at those damn kids to get off my lawn. That said, it’s a horrible idea to force everyone into touch-based computing.

The unveiling of Windows 8, coupled with Apple’s nudging of OS X closer to iOS with Lion, has me shaking my head.

Why monkey around with happy users by combining their experiences? Some people love iOS. Some people love OS X. I don’t think this is a peanut butter and chocolate moment though. Using Lion as an example, out-of-the-box it enables an option called “Move content in the direction of finger movement when scrolling or navigating” which creates backward scrolling for wheel mouses.

Disabling this option was one of the first things I had to do after my upgrade because every single window scrolled the wrong way.

I haven’t yet had a chance to kick the tires on the developer preview release of Windows 8, but as I was drafting this post, I saw that Tim (@oraclebase) has.

From his post, it looks like Microsoft has taken similar steps to make Win 8 touch-friendly by default, which doesn’t have to but frequently does mean, keyboard/mouse unfriendly.

So, let’s assume the smart minds at Apple and Microsoft can gracefully normalize touch and type interfaces. What about all the software that runs on these OSes?

I’m going to guess that redesigning an application to support touch isn’t easy. Sure, you get a lot from the SDK, but stuff like data entry needs to be rethought to accomodate the clunkiness of using a touch keypad.

Can you imagine the productivity dropoff with a touch experience for something like a spreadsheet or word processing application? I wonder how a touch-friendly Microsoft Office will work.

Then there are the ergonomic differences between touch and type usage to consider.

It’s still early in this game, but given the way things are going, I doubt any of us will have a choice other than to adapt.

Or switch completely to Linux for real work.

Find the comments.




  1. Your worrying too much.. 😉
    C’mon you get an Ipad, Iphone, Android, Kinect, Wii pointer etc they all have there differences but adoption to these devices and interface interactions is very intuitive.

    I know I didn’t read through any tutorials everything just came naturally.
    Look at the Xbox they are pushing controller, Voice & gestures into their interface and it all works really naturally.

    I’m currently working with Mouse, Kinect, voice and touch interaction/integrations for WebCenter at Fishbowl and its not that difficult to peace together once you get the basic principals together. The kinect integration I have is just using the same methods I’ve written for the touch interactions where your hands become 2 inputs. (I’ve also taken it a step further where I can use the touch input of the Ipad to interact with laptop if you dont have a touch screen PC)

    Yes, preparing a video once I’ve finished it all.
    So you’ll see my ugly mug trying to present on a projector screen and talk about it in a couple months.

    It’s exciting stuff..

  2. Not entirely true. You have to *learn* a lot of the gestures to get the most out of the OS, and when gestures do different things on different devices, that’s a bad experience for the user.

    Besides, there’s a massive loss in productivity going from keyboard/mouse to touch.

    Try banging out a blog post of a couple hundred works on a touch screen and then tell me I’m worrying too much.

  3. “every single window scrolled the wrong way” There’s a bit of a TED talk on that concept, from moving though powerpoint slides. Imagine the slides on old-fashioned continuous feed paper. One ‘mental image’ is you moving to the next slide by pulling it (down) towards you, another is you moving forward through the pages. 
    A touch-screen is more “you manipulating the content/media” but the mouse is “move my (virtual) eye”. The latter also follows on from scrollbars. You move the scrollbar up, and the content moves down. And we’ll probably be stuck with the strange situation the same way we are stuck with QWERTY.

    Now I’m old enough to remember rewriting applications to cater for this new-fangled mouse contraption. People could suddenly click in any field, rather than having to TAB through each on in sequence. 

  4. I’m glad you mentioned rewriting applications. That’s going to be the biggest hurdle for Win 8, with its split personality.

  5. First off, I hate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

    Second off, I have a belief (completely unsubstantiated on my part) that keyboard/mouse hardware is simpler than touch screen hardware, and therefore is less prone to breaking. When certainly family members bought the LG env Touch phone, I stubbornly stuck to the LG env3 (no touchscreen) for that reason.

    Third off, I agree that using touch on some applications might not be all that efficient. Perhaps it’s because of years of practice, but I can be very precise when I use a keyboard or use a mouse. Stick my fingers on a touchscreen, and I know that I’ll have less precision. In my mind (again, probably due to lack of practice), a mouse allows me to specify a particular pixel, while a finger occupies a great blob of space on the screen with no precision whatsoever. I shudder to think of the users of my company’s software using their fingers to precisely identify fingerprint ridge endings and bifurcations.

    But if I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that given a few years of practice, we will be just as adept at using touchscreens as we are in using mice. After all, the touchscreen is more intuitive, since you are directly interacting with the item that you want to modify (rather than interacting with an item on the side of your computer, and having that cause changes several inches away on the screen of your computer). I can’t remember how long it took me to learn how to use a mouse when I encountered my first Macintosh Plus in the mid 1980s, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t master the mouse on day one. After some practice, I could probably be just as good on touchscreens as I am with a mouse.

    But I’m still worried about the touchscreen breaking.

  6. Very valid concerns. On the point about preciseness, mobile design paradigms account for the lack of precision of touch. Every touchable area should have padding that isn’t necessary on pointer-based systems. 

    It’s one of many design easements that will have to be made to upgrade software to touch compatibility.

    I agree that I’m far more productive w a keyboard/mouse, and yes, it’s definitely a biproduct of decades of experience. Touch will evolve, and we’ll get good at it.

    It’s the growing pains that will really suck.

  7. On my factory barcode/touch screen app (the size of a normal PC screen), I had to make the on-screen buttons 1″x2.5″, otherwise people just couldn’t get the right one.  They still sometimes don’t, even though they are different text and colors (ie, stop is red and start is green).

    My LG env touch is just crappy, I can never get it to do what I want.  Especially when it is in my pocket, when I want it to do nothing.

    One of my kid’s computers has a flaky old mouse, and he uses it just fine (I get extremely frustrated).  I can’t help but wonder if he is learning some very bad muscle habits, but he adapts instantly to the other computers.  Then on the PS, both kids have an easy time of it while the cursor jumps all over the place with the handheld remote, and I still can’t get the hang of it.

    Instant-on all-day battery Windows 8 snapdragon: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/sep/13/qualcomm-sees-potential-boosts-windows-8/?ap

    I agree, keyboards are better.  But I’m glad to see everything will have to scale size-wise.

  8. Maybe it’s an age thing. Shouldn’t matter though, ability to figure out something or cope w its failings is not a user attribute you should rely on to save your bad design.

  9. Talking about scaling size-wise. I’ll grant that televisions are not touch screen yet (unless you integrate them with Kinect-like gesture technology), but in terms of display we’re now having to deal with things as small as a watch and as large as a wide-screen TV.

  10. You could argue that Microsoft Surface is a touch screen TV of sorts. The problem of distance will prevent TVs from being touch screen, i.e. it’s a ten-foot experience.

    I think the assumption that touch screens are more intuitive doesn’t hold water beyond basic manipulations. That’s the problem here. Too many gesture combinations to remember, too many actions to represent. I’ve hit this issue already w Win 8.

    The big problem is that keyboard and mouse can do a lot of things, and as we transition into touch, designers want to port every feature, which creates bad design.

    Maybe the next generation of touch UIs will be far enough after keyboard/mouse fade out that designers won’t feel they need to represent every single action that was once possible.

  11. Maybe future students will need to take Mime-101.

    Watching NCIS-LA last night, they have a wall size monitor in their ops room where the techies think nothing of walking up and touching and waving  to open files and drill down or zoom documents.  It doesn’t seem out of place, though I was finding some entertainment in that it must be a special effect, even though the technology exists.

    I agree with your assessment about basic manipulations.  However, I think that the future may bring some big advances as different paradigms are tried and discarded.  The reason keyboards are superior is there is neuromuscular parallelism – when you learn typing well, you think the word and your fingers type it much faster than you could command each finger (even if you are an ace hunt-n-pecker).  Musicians (especially keyboard and string players) know this, practice, practice, practice.  So what is needed are input devices that can utilize this, like those spotted suits animators use on actors, but at much higher granularity.

    Eventually we’ll all be inverse-puppets.  The key is learned kinesiology-control, not memorizing actions.  And we’ll find voice way too slow.

    I bet Disney will get it right.

  12. Similar thing on Hawaii Five-0, Surface like tabletop they touch, and stuff can be projected (flung) to monitors up high. Sexy, special effects-y.

    I think we agree that it will take several failed iterations (and the passing of old farts like us who take our keyboards to the grave) to get touch right. 

    It’s probably some percentage of innovation around failure and the aging of the old guard, maybe 50/50?

  13. Similar thing on Hawaii Five-0, Surface like tabletop they touch, and stuff can be projected (flung) to monitors up high. Sexy, special effects-y.

    I think we agree that it will take several failed iterations (and the passing of old farts like us who take our keyboards to the grave) to get touch right. 

    It’s probably some percentage of innovation around failure and the aging of the old guard, maybe 50/50?

  14. I don’t see any problems with the touch screen age. I know that all the OS’s will support keyboard and mouse inputs. If people do not like hand gestures and the touch experience then all they have to do is keep using their keyboard and mouse to use the OS. I have been using Windows 8 Developer Preview and I really like the OS. It’s very fast and uses 128mb of ram on a fresh install. I do not like how I can’t drag and drop applications into the Metro UI. Mac Lion also has similar problems. I used mac’s OS for 1 day and uninstalled it. Expose woks so much better in Leopard and the extra features are bogus. After saying all that I really do like the new WIndows 8 OS. I’ve been playing with it for 2 weeks now and I like it. The only thing that bothers me right now is using the shutdown/restart/log off button and when I use desktop mode…. it switches me to explorer in Metro UI. I don’t want to use Metro UI Explorer!! Firefox is my default browser. You know what, I take that back. All OS’s need to give the user two options when installing. During installation of the new operating system it should give you two boxes to select A: Touch screen Interface & B: Basic Interface. Then all the problems will go away (unless your using Windows which loves viruses muwhahaha).. This is for all you Linux users out there. I really want to convert over to Linux but there is one thing keeping me from converting over….. Photoshop (alternatives to PS cannot compare… nor any of my Master Collection Suite) 😛 I have a legal copy and wish it worked perfectly on Linux. Comon Linux!

  15. I think Ubuntu might join the touch screen age… just some speculation with the “Cloud” movement. Why is Ubuntu doing the Cloud? They need to focus more on compatibility and refining their OS. I have high hopes for Linux and since Windows and Mac are pushing so much that many will will look for an alternative. Once they use Linux they will say… wow, this is great… and it’s free? Many game developers will also convert over because of their massive headaches of using Windows 8 and OS X Lion. I say, touch screen developers move to WIndows and Mac… Hard core game developers move to Linux ^__^ P.S. Photoshop… Linux support please.. you tried and failed in the past… don’t give up now.

  16. You’ve found your way to the same conclusion I’ve made.

    In Win 8, it’s annoying to use the Metro UI w a keyboard, definitely not a very pleasant experience. So, sure keyboard and mouse will work, but we’re being *pushed* into touch. 
    Having a choice of install type would be nice for Win 8, but going forward, the future is touch. Linux may be the last bastion of keyboard/mouse OS.

  17. Game devs will never move to Linux. Their toolsets don’t run on Linux and never will be supported at the right level. Never happening.

    I highly doubt that Ubuntu will go touch; there are Linux distros for touch out there, e.g. Jolicloud, which is based on Ubuntu. So projects will fork Ubuntu for touch, but the main distro will stay as it is bc it’s based on existing hardware.

  18. My experience with windows 8 so far. Well, I’ve given up on it. I have a feeling that they will take away the desktop. Sure the Developer Preview still has it but hey, it’s a preview and not official. There are so many things that need to be fixed. Metro UI is useless. When I install a program the stupid desktop icons go to the Metro UI. They look horrible!! I really hate how it imports ALL the installs shortcuts (installed K-lite Mega Codec pack). Then It takes FOREVER to unpin all those ridiculous shortcuts. Another problem I’m having is that I accidentally unpinned the desktop shortcut. How do I get the shortcut back? Where is the “undo” button? I had to reinstall it again 😛 Well, Microsoft needs to update Windows 8 more often. I think they update to slowly. They need to keep us interested and fix those bugs right away. They only have a year to do it before it’s released! OS x Lion is still not as smooth as snow leopard. Next year we will see many computer companies switching to touch screen interfaces. The desktop PC’s will slowly die over the years. Android tablets for 100 dollars from China are a great deal. I’m actually excited to see how Android will compete with Mac and Microsoft. We need more competition 😀 So far android is on phones, tablets and PC’s (Chrome OS). I’m sure that all the application companies will still use windows 😛 Many people converted over to mac but Google seems to be pulling in many new customers. I think Ubuntu will join the touch screen age also (Unity desktop). I’m excited to use Photoshop with a touch screen. It sounds like a lot of fun ^_^ but I think I will need a BIG screen so that the mouse pointer is the same size as my finger hahaha. Designing on a small touch screen will be pointless (hmmm a 32 inch touch screen on my lap… sounds hot) O_o

  19. Since they need to rewrite the applications… why not rewrite them to work on Linux instead. This will fix all the headaches the developers have ^_^

  20. I heard they changed the tile size to cut down on the horizontal, erm, swiping. I tend to agree that Metro may be fully separated into its own edition, exclusively for home use. I can’t see enterprises wanting to support both Metro and Win 7 interfaces, too much work.

    Point of fact, Chromebooks do not run Android.

    Amazon has set the bar correctly for Android tablets to compete w Apple. I expect more Kindles to enter that market very soon, creating downward pressure on the iPad.

    I can’t imagine using Ubuntu on a touchscreen, but unfortunately, it too is being pulled in that direction. I may have to change distros.

    Finally, why would you want to used Photoshop on a touch screen? I’ve tried designing on my iPad, and it’s a nightmare to get pixel-perfection w your finger as the input mechanism. Very frustrating if you’re accustomed to a mouse.

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