A touch of magic
You know touchscreen technology is entering the mainstream when you find yourself swiping your fingers across any monitors you encounter. That’s just what I found myself doing recently.
Picking up a hire car to drive to Cork, I was in an unfamiliar vehicle with a screen embedded in the dashboard, providing a variety of information. Naturally, or so I thought, I took a god-given digit and poked at the tabs on the screen.
Yet, for now at least, that screen built into the car was not some sort of capacitive touch screen wonder. It was but a plain old LCD display providing access to plenty of information, provided I stabbed at real buttons and twiddled with dials. It felt distinctly retro.
And there’s the rub. After a little over a year of smart-phone use it’s become second nature to assume that any bright screen we encounter in the real world must follow the same principles we’re now seeing pop up on the latest handsets.
To anyone not already immersed in the smart-phone paradigm, it will seem odd to make such a claim. Yet for those who have become used to the iPhone or the ever-growing range of Android powered handsets, this encounter will probably sound quite familiar.
It’s the sort of gear change we all went through when the mouse became a common means of interacting with computers on the early Macs and those first attempts from Microsoft at creating a point and click user interface.
It caused me to recall a telling incident back in 1995. There was an expo in Birmingham to showcase a new dial-up service being demonstrated on a bunch of PCs running Windows 3.1. The public were being encouraged to come up and give it a try. A woman lifted the mouse into the air and proceeded to wave it in front of the screen like a TV remote. She couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working, until the complex task of using a mouse to control a PC pointer was explained.
Jump forward 15 years and we’re going through those growing pains once again as touch-screen technology finally gets to a point were we can reasonably ditch these old input devices for the digits we were provided with from birth. It is, after all, the most natural thing to point and poke with your own finger.
This is the world of iPads and tablets. It’s one where we’ll have come full circle. At one point it was lamented that the use of computers, keyboards and mice would see the destruction of our ability to write with pen and paper. That may still turn out to be the case, but the emergence of this new means of interacting with technology also brings us back into a much more direct relationship with the machines we use. It might not be pen on paper but it’s the nearest doppelganger yet.
It’s my suspicion that 2011 will be the year that finger-driven touchscreen computing becomes all-pervasive. With Apple having already sold 7 million iPads, and Samsung claiming it has shipped 1.5 million Galaxy Tabs, it’s just the start of a shift that will prove to be every bit as significant as the arrival of the humble computer mouse.
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