Rise of the Touch Interface

I’ve been reading quite a lot about touch interfaces as of late. It seems as if vendors are determined to force everyone down the road to using touch interfaces whether the interface makes sense for every application or not. Because Windows 8 is placing such a strong emphasis on the Metro Interface, which focuses strongly on using a touch screen, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time thinking about how touch interfaces will affect computer usage in the future.

Let me begin by saying that from everything I’ve seen, touch interfaces probably work well for many consumer applications. For example, if you want to take some photos of the kids and then make some modifications to them before sending them to someone else, a touch interface probably does the job. However, my thoughts generally focus on business applications and the business environment where people are working in front of desktop systems most of the day. The focus of this post is on how the rise of the touch interface will work in the business environment.

The first consideration I made was size constraints. Touch interfaces work exceptionally well with smaller, handheld devices. There are some people who say that desktop computers are going the way of the dinosaur and that everyone will be using a tablet device at some point. I’m not persuaded that this changeover is going to take place. Although people may use a tablet and/or cellphone in addition to a desktop system at work, desktop computers are abundant and will probably remain so for a number of practical reasons.

 

  • The desktop computer screen is large enough to see well and to use for complex applications.
  • A desktop computer can use multiple screens.
  • It’s hard to run off with a desktop computer (in other words, steal it).
  • Desktop computers are easy to upgrade and maintain.
  • A desktop computer can contain more hardware than smaller platforms (such as add-ins for scientific or industrial work).
  • Multiple users can easily use a single desktop system.

I’ve read all of the arguments for using a cellphone or tablet to perform every business task and I just don’t buy them. Some tasks simply require a larger platform. (For example, I can’t imagine writing a book using a cellphone; the very idea is ridiculous). Unless someone comes out with a magic desktop platform killer, I doubt very much that the desktop computer is going to simply disappear. Even if such a platform should appear tomorrow, the installed base of desktop systems in immense. Replacing them is going to take time.

So, why the focus on desktop systems? The answer is simple. Desktop systems don’t work well with touch interfaces. Until you rid the world of the desktop, you’re going to need to support the keyboard and mouse interface. Some vendors just don’t understand this basic concept and think that users will somehow feel comfortable reaching over their keyboard (and whatever else is on their desk) to touch a monitor screen. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Let’s drop the desktop as an argument (partly because I can hear the hushed wind of many signs out there ). Even if you’re using a touch screen compatible device, there are going to be times when you want to type or you require more accuracy than a touch interface provides. Theoretically, this also means you’ll want to mouse about too. If the operating system isn’t friendly toward this sort of usage, the user is going to be less productive. More importantly, the user is going to become frustrated and use any other operating system that offers the flexibility that the user wants. For example, trying to draw anything detailed using a touch interface is nearly impossible (you really need a graphics tablet or a mouse to do that). Selecting things with fat fingers (such as the ones attached to my hands) is incredibly frustrating using a touch interface unless you’re talking about larger items (such as an entire icon).

The touch interface is here to stay. I can see how using a touch interface could speed certain tasks. Unfortunately, I can also see that using a touch interface exclusively will make certain tasks unnecessarily cumbersome and slow the user inordinately. As I work with various interface options, I see a touch interface as an addition to the current options, and not a replacement for them. What is your take on the touch interface? Have you used one? Have you used it to perform complex tasks without using any other sort of input device? I’d really appreciate getting your input on this topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Author: John

John Mueller is a freelance author and technical editor. He has writing in his blood, having produced 117 books and over 600 articles to date. The topics range from networking to artificial intelligence and from database management to heads-down programming. Some of his current offerings include topics on machine learning, AI, Android programming, and C++ programming. His technical editing skills have helped over more than 70 authors refine the content of their manuscripts. You can reach John on the Internet at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.