Touch Screens: NYTimes Approved

NYTimes has confirmed what a lot of smartphone and iDevice users have know for ages[in Gadget-speak that is more than a year] – touch screens work very, Very, VERY effectively, thank you. This blog has been saying so for a long time that touch screen plus gestures is the magic UI ingredient which will unleash a new level of  productivity in computing.

Touch screens operations are intuitive and natural. They are easy to remember making program operations easy to learn and, most importantly remember how to use later. The NYTimes story emphasizes this point. Touch screen operations are not as intrusive or broadcast-like revealing as voice commands which had a spell of popularity in the late 1990s. Touch screens are much more efficient than mice in getting GUI based work done.

Mice are GUI rodents for 4 reasons: First, they  force  time consuming  hand-eye co-ordination – true, only a second or less of extra work  per operation but  measurably more over the course of a compute session. Second, mice force extra GUI operations. Take zooming in and out:
1)Select the tool
2)select the zoom direction – in or out;
3)do the operation.
With touch screen + gestures, it is one pinch in or out motion. Third, mice for precision placement and drawing are just not as good as touch screen operations. Wacom has made a profitable business out of this. Fourth and last, touch screen are not subject to miss-clicks and inadvertent errors that take chunks of time to reverse.

If Touchscreen is So Good why has it taken so long to Take OFF ?

I wish I could say it was technology; but HP had touchscreen operations with a stylus back in the early 1980′ and later for Windows 3.1 and 95 in the early 1990’s. Again in 1999, with the Jornada PDA [or iPad of its era] HP again had stylus based touch screen operations. And HP is rumored to have been working for 2 years with Microsoft on a touch screen Windows 7 device. No wonder HP finally threw in the towel and bought Palm for its WebOS multi-touch operating system and are working overtime to bring it to market on tablets as well as smartphones.

There are a lot of iPhone-like patents and prior art in the records stretching through the 1980s to the present. Here is one from 1995. And the technology around touchscreen operations has been quite vibrant. But there have been a lot of problems with the various touch technologies including picking up the touch consistently, scratches and damages to the screen, oil and other “human” grease obscuring the screen, fatfingers not being precise enough, stylus detection but requiring a pick-up operation, etc. However, every time a problem pops up on touchscreen operations it gets whack-a-mole-downed again by some clever coating or detection technology.

Summary

The markets have spoken – 50% growth for multi-touch enabled smartphones so far this year.  And just touchscreen is not good enough. Windows 7 has been offering simple touchscreens through Acer and HP for the last 2 years or so but they have seen only slow sales gains. For some strange reason, Apple has not seen fit to bring touchscreen operations [and certainly not multi-touch screens] to the Mac desktop and laptop scene. Yet, Multi-touch with gestures as in the Android and iPad is the new standard which is really pulling customers in. And so expect a flood of multi-touch devices – smartphones, tablets, and PCs in the coming months. And if the Swedish Gui Gurus, the Astonishing Tribe, are right again -> the new forms of multi-touch screen operations will be absolutely amazing. See you around Christmas time to check back on what touching goodies have arrived.