Monday, November 30, 2009

Who Really Wants A Touchscreen? Really?

On my plane to California, I read the December issue of Wired Magazine and it was filled with ads for PCs and laptops with touchscreen capability and I just have no idea why anyone would want to make this purchase.  Moreover, why are computer manufacturers are using this as a key selling point in their marketing of their products?

Please allow me explicate my problem with this situation in my special rambling way that I only I can.

Awhile back, I wrote that I am over this whole tablet computer thing, and I still am.  I like my iPhone fine, but I need a keyboard to type.  The idea of tapping away on a sheet of glass to write my blog posts seems going for a bike ride (something that I occasionally like doing) on one of those fixed gear bicycles (something that gets you from point A to point B, but makes it unduly harder).  It would take me longer than usual and by the time I finished I would not feel the same sense of accomplishment.  Then there's the fact that I don't know how many times I day I find myself rubbing my phone against my shirt to wipe away the dirt and oils that accumulate on the screen.

But shouldn't I like touchscreens?  I like using my fingers on my iPhone to move around more than the trackball that was on my old Blackberry Pearl.

Nope, not at all.

First off, the ellipticals and treadmills at my gym have touchscreens and they don't work at all.  I wouldn't hate them if I just used the touchscreens to set the time and speed, but they're supposed to have televisions built in and you cannot change the channel with any bit of efficiency.  It recently took me six minutes to get to ESPN because I really wanted to watch something that had ended by the time I got to it.  Plus, why would I want to touch something that is covered in other people's sweat repeatedly?

Next, I cannot tell you how much I hate when someone touches my computer screen, or anything else that I might look at or through for that matter.  I am by no means a neat freak (my girlfriend and former roommates will all sign sworn affidavits stating such); however, I will go apeshit on your ass if you leave a fingerprint on my monitor.  TAKE THE MOUSE AND USE THE CURSOR TO POINT AT WHATEVER YOU WANT TO SHOW ME.  A touchscreen would just invite everyone and their mother to come over and put their hands where I don't want them. 

Finally, I do not see any value the functionality of zooming in on an image on a computer like I do on my iPhone.  If the touchscreen zoom was such an innovative concept then why is Apple not integrating it into the design of their computers?

It's the same reason we don't drive Pontiac Aztecs.  Everything in our lives does not need to be a Swiss Army Knife.  Tacking on a function to a computer may get a small group of people interested in brands like MSI, which I had not heard of until the Hackintosh craze started, but there is no value in that interest in the long run if you do not create something that people really want: a computer that is reliable.

I guarantee you that if a computer brand other than Apple started to advertise reliability as its primary function then that brand will become instantly successful in the American market compared to brands that are manufacturing demand by attempting to create want for something where there is no want.  This may seem like I am going against the tenets of marketing, but companies who are introducing touchscreen functions are ignoring the most important rule and that's knowing the consumer.  They are making the tragic assumption that if the consumer likes something in one place then he or she will love it in another. 

Get back to the drawing board.


John Scott Lucas said...


It was great to meet you at the housewarming party on Saturday. (Now I'm cyber-stalking you!)

I think you're latest blog touches on what one tech writer called, "The holy grail of handheld devices," by which he meant an interface that was as comfortable and functional as a full-sized keyboard yet fits in the palm of your hand. I partially agree with you about touch screens -- they are currently a bit of a pain in the ass compared to a keyboard, BUT they might be an intermediary step towards a much more intuitive interface. When I think intuitive, I think, "stick." The Wacom Cintiq lets graphic artists draw directly onto a screen, which is a huge advantage, but it's not as smooth as a real pen or brush. And I don't think it offers a function that converts hand-drawn letters to type yet. I liked the stylus function on the old Palm CliƩ. I got to be really fast with it, but every so often I'd get stuck on a single stubborn character. I tried to avoid any word with the letter "x" in it. Here's an idea I know you'll like -- the Kord, or Chordic Graphic User Interface, is a five-button keypad you hold in one hand. You press combinations of buttons like playing guitar chords to indicate whatever character you need. You can also use it to move a cursor. An Australian firm developed it as an interface for underwater computers. Here's the really cool part: because the interface is tactile, you don't even have to look at the screen to know what you are typing. It's sort of like how you know how to play a "G" chord without looking -- your fingers just remember how to do it.

Hope we can lure you back to Tarrytown for dinner soon!


John Scott Lucas said...

PS: If quality and reliability were what the American Consumer wanted, the world would be a very different place.