Touch mainstreams

22 Feb 2008|Lee Shupp

Bill Gates announced this week that Windows 7 would include a touch interface. (Windows 7 is the code name for the next version of the Window OS, reportedly coming in 2010.) This is big news, as it is the ultimate mainstreaming of the touch interface introduced to the mass market by Apple with the iPhone . Why are touch interfaces coming to the mainstream, and why now?

The keyboard and the mouse have been pretty good interface tools for computer users up until now. When computers sat in a box on a desktop of an office , a keyboard (really a much improved typewriter) and a mouse (a simple way to navigate on a screen) were ideal interface devices, as they required little learning and they worked well on a flat desktop with plenty of space. But many changes are underway that make the keyboard and mouse less than ideal interfaces for many of our computing needs.

What is changing?
• The computer is shrinking as hard drives become smaller with increasing capacity, leading powerful computers to become available in very small form factors, like your mp3 player or GPS system.
• As a result, computing is moving from the gray box in the office to becoming embedded in myriad devices and form factors. As computing becomes integral to almost everything from our cars to our alarm clocks, we need many more ways of interacting with our computing devices.
• People are becoming more mobile, spending more time in their cars as commute times increase, and more time out of the office working at home or mobile. This means lots of time mobile when its hard to use a keyboard and mouse. How much time have you spent on a plane, in a cramped seat, molding yourself into a human pretzel to try to get work done on a device that just barely fits on the flimsy plastic tray jammed into your crotch? Not much fun, is it? (I won’t even mention attempts I’ve seen to use a laptop while driving…)
• In addition, computing is moving from the model of “all of your info in your machine” to “all of your info in the cloud,” which means that the things we need are no longer held captive in the gray box that sits in our office. The growth of broadband, WiFi access, and soon WiMax enables us to access the information we need from almost anywhere .

Apple did a brilliant job with the iPhone, introducing a fresh new interface using touch that is easy to learn, and fun to use. Microsoft has recently introduced Surface, a large touch screen available in many forms that allows multiple users to access a touch interface. Touch will begin showing up on many things in between, and with Gates’ announcement, will even be an option on the traditional PC soon.

I’ll be talking more about touch and the advent of intuitive interfaces at South by Southwest Interactive, in Austin TX in March. If you’re interested, see Kill Your Mouse: Kinetic Computing Arrives Mainstage, which will be at 11 am on Saturday March 8th. Joining me will be Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive and Alexa fame, Kai Huang from Red Octane/Guitar Hero, and Kristin Alexander from MSFT’s Surface Team. Christie Dames from TechTalk will be moderating.

prev next