How touch screens turn people into zombies or why keyboards are irreplacable

I just wanted to finish a draft blog post using my tablet, since after all, it’s a full blown computer. It has more than enough horsepower to run virtually any writing application. But right after I began to type in letter by letter, I realized that touch screens make you lazy. So lazy, that the blog post would have become much shorter than I wanted it to be. Additionally it would have included strange auto-completion artifacts and misplaced punctuation not resembling my usual writing style. Let’s explore the brave new world of touch screen computing, why touch screens suck and how they make us to internet zombies.

Touch screens actually just have reached their highest point in perceived innovation as they will ever will, at least for the mass market. As Bill Buxton pointed out, it takes about 30 years for any innovation to reach the mass market, so basically, every super new gadget you own is an old hat. At least from the perspective of the inventors. The original invention of the touch screen in fact is almost 50 years old and has not gained any additional features over that period of time! With the advent of cheap touch enabled consumer electronics devices it seemed to be brand new; And it is with no doubt one of the greatest ways to interact with the computer to date. But still, for some tasks, it just sucks and I will tell you why.

All you do is poking

Using a touchscreen, you can only point at things, even though your hands are capable of performing the oddest tasks with ease (like grabbing a bottle and unscrewing the caps with the same hand). Furthermore, you can not really point at things, you have to slightly poke them on the screen. So essentially the hand is reduced to 2 dimensions, even though we use at least 3 dimensions in our every day live. At least 3? Even though you might be of different opinion, I am counting hand gestures as another dimension as well; They are made up of different hand positions over time. Those gestures can also contain additional social conventions, which could count as yet another dimension.

Most people have more than one hand

There are few exceptions; Most of the time you will poke only with one hand. The other hand is occupied holding the tablet anyway. Or you are using one hand, because you have a hard time using the second hand without occluding the on-screen keyboard. The biggest problem in that case is, that we need tactile feedback for our hands to train our muscle-memory. And even if you somehow manage to use both your hands, then you’re most probably only using one finger per hand!

So basically, that shows us, that touch screen devices are designed for one-armed and one-fingered people with a lot of patience.

Death by poking

But wait, there’s another way! Nobody forces me to write a long essay about the “merits of coala bears in the rain forest” or whatever. I’ll just twitter! Or even better, I’ll write my blog post once I get back home to my desktop computer.

And there you go, after essentially 100 years of using a typewriter, we’ve found an interface so simple, that allows us to not write anymore at all. The interface of touch devices reward passive consumers and lead to shorter responses, less detailed descriptions and throw-away conversations.

Distopia

So the internet slowly rots, since nobody is writing anything anymore. And by now almost half of it’s population is already infected with the touch-screen-virus.

Luckily there is a remedy; we can simply add a keyboard to a tablet! I’ll call it dynabook!

Epilogue

Half of this post was written using the ZTE Starnaute, maybe the worst mobile on earth; Well, at least it was designed for people with two thumbs.

starnaute

After a few weeks, I could type without watching.

8 thoughts on “How touch screens turn people into zombies or why keyboards are irreplacable

  1. I completely agree, I cannot STAND touch screen keyboards. In my opinion I laugh at companies that always say “The tablet that can replace your laptop”. Its a joke. You take away my physical keyboard, you take away all hope of me ever getting anything productive done. Yeah sure tablets are great for watching youtube and such, but using them for productivity is a nightmare in my opinion.

    Am I the only one who also hates touch screen laptops? I HATE companies that are trying to force you towards the tablet side. Sorry, I used my COMPUTER for productivity, stop trying to force your tablet on to me, I don’t want it.

  2. That’s dumb. It’s like a vocalist claiming all musical instruments are stupid and make for lazy musicians. The inventor of the piano and guitar didn’t claim that singing would become obsolete thanks to their new musical inventions. And Steve Jobs didn’t attempt to make the keyboard obsolete. The touch interface was designed for different types of use – casual, playful and remote interactions, occasional quick texting or short emails, etc – not long form writing. There are different categories of devices.

    Are you aware that Apple has continued to invest heavily in designing the best desktop and laptop computers long after their touch screen devices became popular? They just released a new keyboard advancement that makes for smoother typing. Doh, missed that!

    I suppose anyone stuck like a record player skipping on “Apple sucks,” will revel in such stubborn dogma.

    • Hi Jason,

      I haven’t mentioned Apple nor the iPad in the post, so I am not sure why you’d argue that their products are in some magical way superior or why you would think that I’m in the opinion that apple makes bad products. You have put up a straw man. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man)

      Furthermore you took instruments as an example: Pianos are complex interfaces that let the user express rich ideas as is the human voice. My point is that touch screens have their place, but they are more like a 5-key piano and you cannot play a concert on them. It would be great to see interfaces that are better than touchscreens, either using gesture recognition or old school real physical interfaces.

      • You’re right, I’m sorry. It was my friend who sent me a link to your blog post who prefaced it with: “Why Steve Jobs and Jony Ive were always wrong”.

        However, I didn’t write anywhere in my response that Apple products are “magical” or “superior”. I made a point about different categories of products designed for their intended purpose. When you get into the myriad ways we interact with the world, no single device is designed to serve every possible need for control and creation. I think a QWERTY keyboard is overkill on a phone or tablet. And a touch screen is inadequate for writing a novel.

        In music history, it’s well-known that when pianos were first introduced, the vocal purists scoffed at them as new-fangled abominations, incapable of expressing the nuances of the human voice – similar to how MIDI, digital synths and audio were criticized when first introduced in the 1980s.

  3. Touch screens suck mostly because big industry is pushing it instead of letting people have a choice between touch and non touch in a simple defined matter.

    Websites are constantly being dumbed down as a result. YouTube is made totally for touch screens and sucks for me because I don’t have one causing navigation to be difficult more like a maze.

    Most modern news sites have the pop down menus to get anywhere because they think my device is a touch and I *point* my finger at the menu instead of my mouse so sometimes menus I don’t want pop up as I move my mouse to the one I do want.

    I avoid the MSM now more then ever because of that issue.

    One site that is funny called PC Tech has very little in the ways of actual PC’s and is mostly about touch screens and phones the last I looked.

  4. The new google maps the mouse cursor and circle or pegman *if you are doing Street View* are way off of each other making navigating rather awkward because the maps likely assume I am just dragging the circle with my finger rather then computer mouse totally ignoring it.

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