Posted by: rubberhawk | February 13, 2009

Touchscreens

Touchscreens are great aren’t they?

Everything would be so simple if we all used touchscreens. No longer would we have to worry about interface design or the laborious task that is point and click(It’s so Windows 98 isn’t it?). Everything would be laid out in a smooth virtual 3d space on your screen for you to freely manipulate in your hands. Slide that here, swivel that there, tap this, fling that over there. It sounds fantastic doesn’t it?

The idea of touchscreen technology has been around as long the idea of the mouse has yet the mouse remains the first choice of the computer user. Multitouch, the best kind of touchscreen, was first suggested way back in 1982. These days the whole idea of multitouch seems to be gathering steam once again. This has a lot to do with the release of devices like the iphone. Here I must admit it works very well. However when it comes to my computer I can’t see me getting overly excited waiting for it:

  • I don’t need it. When technology fills a need it becomes popular very quickly. USB did this, broadband did this, MSN did it. People don’t like change for no reason. I have my system that works. I know why my mouse has two buttons. I learned my keyboard shortcuts. I can type at a reasonable speed. Why should I go off and learn a whole new way of interacting with a computer when what i have learned is fine. Touchscreen really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, unless you’re talking about actual tables of course.
  • I don’t want to touch my screen. Even now, the fingerprints, dust and smudges on my screen are annoying me and I might touch my screen five times a day at the most. Now just imagine if i was constantly touching the screen and rubbing my fingers across it. Anyone who’s ever used a touchscreen register in a bar knows how unclean the screens can get when your hands are covered in things like sambuca or beer. I don’t want to spend a large portion of my day cleaning off the smudges I’m being forced to make on my own screen. It’s a self destructive cycle that would eventually lead to my next point.
  • My mouse cost €10 and my keyboard cost maybe another €15. That makes it ok when the computer inevitably decides it doesn’t like me anymore and I fire the mouse at a wall out of frustration. Along with the wear and tear of daily use, input devices take a certain amount of abuse as well, especially the mouse and keyboard. If I have to release that frustration on a touchscreen it costs me a couple of hundred to replace it. A DVD player built into the TV costs less than the price of a DVD to add so in theory they should be built into every TV at a very small cost. However people don’t like them because when they inevitably break you’re stuck with a DVD player you can’t replace without buying a whole new TV. Computers are designed around the idea of being built out of swappable components. If one component breaks you just slot in another one at a minimal cost.

So before i rush out to buy a multitouch screen it needs to basically be useful, durable and cheap. That I think is a couple of years away from mainstream use. The only new use I’ve seen for them is for looking through photos in a natural way. The problem there is that a digital photo frame only costs about €65 these days. This is enough for most consumers to pay and brings it nicely into “the gift zone” of pricing. Multitouch screens, it seems to me, will first become a marketing tool for cutting edge companies to put in their lobby and show off just how cool and edgy they are.

Maybe in a decade or so I’ll put one in my living room because I’m trendy like that…

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