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Mobilize 2010: Touch Has Won the Interface War

After decades of click-and-scroll based interfaces for phones, the touch interface has effectively taken over, thanks to the success of the iPhone, and every mobile device maker is trying to catch up and figure out how to take advantage of it. That’s what Christian Lindholm — a managing partner of mobile design firm Fjord and a former handset designer for Nokia — told the GigaOM Mobilize conference today. Lindholm’s firm has helped design apps and services such as BBC’s iPlayer and Yahoo Go, and the designer is a former vice-president of global mobile services for Yahoo.

“Phones have been, and probably always will be, hit products,” Lindholm said in a discussion with Om Malik. “Whoever gets that hit is going to make billions,” he added, and Apple has clearly had the biggest hit in years. “When I was at Nokia, we tried to perfect the click-and-scroll user interface, and I think we nailed that.” In the past two years, Lindholm said, “Apple has nailed touch, and everyone is scrambling to catch up.”

[inline-pro-content] The designer said that he sees touch evolving into several different categories of device in the future: one he called “big touch,” which would include devices such as the iPad (which Lindholm referred to as his “maxi Pad”), and that there will be a race to see “who has the balls to put the biggest display in their pocket.” Another category would be the standard 60-millimeter-wide phone form factor, but with touch, and then a third category would be what Lindholm called “small touch” — meaning devices that will be very small, possibly worn around the neck like jewelry, and will use touch but also smart keys and voice input.

Lindholm said that one thing this new class of devices could use as an interface is what he called “smart keys,” which would respond differently depending on how a user presses them or in which sequence. The designer illustrated this by touching Om’s shoulder and then squeezing his hand, asking “why can’t I have that kind of relationship with products, where if I squeeze them hard they respond faster?” Devices have to get smarter at understanding the context that a user is experiencing them in, Lindholm said, and right now they are “still at the Neanderthal level.”

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