Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Barriers to Touching

Many prominent technologists and industry watchers are predicting the death of the keyboard and other button-based input methods. The argument is based on the initial success of the iPhone (the first mass-market touch-based product), the declining prices of supporting technologies, and the possibility that such forms of input are in some way simpler and offer greater space-saving opportunity.

I generally agree with this opinion but also think there are a few fundamental hurdles left before touch-based tools become more widespread:
  • Tactile Feedback. The beauty of the keyboard and the mouse is the feedback that the keys and buttons inherently provide - enabling us to feel the right key as it is pressed. A flat surface will need to mimic such feedback for typing to be possible - something that RIM has begun to do with the Blackberry Storm.
  • Ergonomic Shape. The flat surface - typically used for current touch-based inputs - isn't conducive to comfort as it doesn't conform with human anatomy. Even the typical QWERTY keyboard seems more comfortable. The shape of touch-based tools will need to be redesigned, especially for repetitive usage that takes place in the corporate environment.
  • Flexibility. I've intentionally used a vague term to describe the final barrier because it encompasses a few different concepts such as the speed of response, the accuracy, and the durability of this type of input. Generally, touch-based tools still feel fragile and not battle-tested for those 2 AM presentation-development binges.

Although not insignificant, these barriers will be overcome in the next few years, ushering in the age of touch-based input.

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