When Touch Is Inappropriate

Microsoft continues to push touch as a user interface, this time as a participant in the $24 million funding round for Israeli startup N-Trig, whose technology enables multitouch, or the use of more than one finger for input. Multitouch hit it big on the iPhone, where one uses multiple fingers to zoom in rather than one finger to drag things around the screen. N-Trig’s technology is also pressure-sensitive capacitive like the iPhone, rather than based on cameras, such as with the touch technologies used by HP’s TouchSmart PC and the Microsoft Surface table. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal hypes Microsoft’s efforts, and spends a good amount of verbiage on how touch could replace the mouse, but won’t be useful everywhere.

Ain’t that the truth. Touch is frankly inappropriate for many tasks, from typing blog entries to dealing with Excel spreadsheets. And while Microsoft (and HP, whose TouchSmart computer is fun to play with) envisions touch being used in a family room-oriented desktop for photos and recipes, I’m not so sure. It’s awkward to page through multiple photos on a vertical screen using a monitor that’s roughly an arm’s length away. Frankly a clicker would be the best option, or barring that, a mouse. And for recipes, one look at my cookbooks, which are completely nasty — waterlogged and gummed together with random food bits — is enough to convince me that the best option is one that is not electronic.

I’m not against touch, and think it adds more usability, especially when it comes to accessing a lot of information in a small space, like on a phone — but I’m not sold on it as a mouse replacement or as a UI for a traditional computer. Now bring out the Surface table, some fun games and photo-sharing software, and I’ll embrace the touch experience, but for now I think some of the industry’s push for touch is inappropriate.

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