Wednesday, March 3, 2010

touch and gestures

While the use of touch and gestures cannot be over-rated when it comes to human interactions, the recent gadget-makers seem to have some fundamentals wrong.

Touch is an "input" mechanism, as it were, for people, not machines! Putting your finger to cold glass and pretending it is touching a button drawn on the glass is not good user experience. It may be state-of-the-art technology, but the state-of-the-art needs to catch up with convenience quickly. If you've ever tried taking a picture with the camera on the iPhone, you'll know what I mean.

Swiping your hand or finger across a screen does sound like sci-fi made real, but it does not beat the convenience of pressing (or "touching") a button to turn a page. Sure, swiping seems to be a natural gesture, but representative gestures that require less movement, less concentration or allow for parallel activity (like eating, holding a phone to one's ear, etc.) add significant value. It is easier to press the eject button for a CD tray than to tug on it as a signal. In the same way, it is easier to zoom with a lever than to "pinch" the screen. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to drive a car if you had to turn your head to turn the car?

Humans have been using instruments even before the Stone Age. That means millions of years of conditioning to get comfortable with temporary extensions to our appendages - from knives to wrenches to racquets and even toothbrushes! It is much easier to draw with a stylus than a finger, whether on paper or an electronic screen, and many people prefer using a mouse with their laptops to the touchpad that comes with it. The next generational devices seem to ignore, even deride, the use of additional instruments, and that will be a handicap for users.

When it come to user experience, convenience is a much longer lasting advantage than novelty.

I am not being a Luddite - it is not the technology I criticize, but its experience: the application and messaging.