Is our resident millennial a dinosaur, too?

Is our resident millennial a dinosaur, too?

Summary: Or is touch really just a bad idea as an interface? Zack Whittaker, millennial extraordinaire and one of the few guys on the planet to really dig Vista, wrote an interesting piece yesterday decrying the problems with touch as a computing interface.


Or is touch really just a bad idea as an interface? Zack Whittaker, millennial extraordinaire and one of the few guys on the planet to really dig Vista, wrote an interesting piece yesterday decrying the problems with touch as a computing interface. I have to say that, while he makes some good points, I was genuinely surprised.

Isn't Zack's generation supposed to embrace new interfaces with aplomb, whether a Wiimote or a touch screen? Aren't these guys the tech revolutionaries to my generation's tech pioneers, innovators who should make aging Baby Boomers fear for their jobs?

As Zack rants,

Computing, for me, has taken a step backwards. I don’t know why anyone would want to interact with a screen with their hands. No matter how smart the technology, the oils on our fingers will grease up the screen like a tabletop in a dingy highway diner. We’ll have errors, flaws, glitches, graphics issues, slowed down processors - it’ll be a nightmare.

While he has a talent for simile, I have to disagree. I think the best two examples of touch to date are the iPod Touch/iPhone and the new convertible Classmate PC. While I have yet to review the latter (come on, Intel - send one of those bad boys over for a review), a look at the software stack and usage models based around the touch interface are quite compelling, both from a gadget-lust and educational/pedagogical standpoint. These computers can genuinely do more as a result of their touch screen and are simply more useful to kids.

While the Classmate takes a more traditional approach to touch (it doesn't make use of multitouch or gestures but rather uses the screen as a full-blown input device supplemented by a keyboard), the iPod Touch/iPhone takes touch in a whole different direction. It's inuitive, smooth, clean, and elegant. It's very Apple. It's also effective enough to make me seriously consider ways that the touch could be used in an educational setting.

Zack, I'm afraid is more of a glass-half-empty sort of guy:

Having people’s messy hands all over your screen or your Surface table will be an absolute fest for bugs, diseases, MRSA, flu, cold - you name it. And what’s worse, when people pick up your phone to play with after taking a whizz and not washing their hands, you’ll go to pick up a phone call and you’ll have their whizz on your face. It’s utter madness as to why anybody would want that… unless you’re into that sort of thing, I suppose.

Thanks for that picture, Zack. This is why those of us in Ed Tech look to the holy grail of 1:1 with smart, easily portable, cheap devices: whizz on your face. Zack also notes that Tablet PCs are good in theory, but require unnatural styles for writing and drawing. Enter the Classmate PC's palm rejection technology. Or smaller devices like the iPod Touch.

Touch is here, Zack, and, combined with emerging netbook/MID form factors, is going to drive a new wave of applications. I really have no desire to replace my keyboard. However, a few minutes with an iPhone is enough to convince me that Zack's kids (if he ever settles down) will see input in a very different way than either Generations X or Y.

Will sales of ShaggyMacs go up to clean off those smudgy screens? You bet. Can I use touch to allow kids (young, old, disabled, or just plain curious) to interact and learn in new ways? Intel is betting that I can and I'm happy to jump on that bandwagon.

Topics: Tablets, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Hmmm...

    Touch? Chris... touch? ;)
    • Very Whitty ...

      For those non-french speaking people out there, touch? is from the french verb Toucher, which means to touch ...

      • RE: Ludovit

        In English, it means, "ahh, I see you're point... hmmm" to show that the person making the original point may not be right after all. It's a compliment.
        • I know ...

          My first language is English ... I just thought the irony of using a word that actually means touch to forfeit a conversation about touch screens was funny ...

  • I don't see much of an issue

    I'm not sure what's Zack point - bringing up the fact that a touch screen, when used by a lot of people, can be unhygienic. Keyboards are very similar, the main difference is that keyboards are much harder, and will therefore be less likely to be kept clean. Touch screens can be built sealed and smudge resistant, making them easy to clean and to keep clean. People can keep boxes of hand wipes by their touch screens, and either insist that other people use them before using their touch screens, or quickly clean off their touch screens after others have used them.

    All new technologies have some issues with them, I don't see hygiene being a significant issue with touch screens.
    P. Douglas
  • RE: Is our resident millennial a dinosaur, too?

    Apple's iBook and its other laptops are the only
    I am willing to use without a mouse - thanks to their
    multitouch trackpads.

    iPhone may not be the best mobile phone around, but
    its touch screen is great. And it's only the
    beginning, I hope.

    We have become accustomed to issue commands with
    keyoboards, then arrow keys, then mice - because we
    had no other way of doing it. It's natural to want to
    touch your screen to move things around - and the
    technology is coming, at last. HP had touch screen
    technology on some of its early machines, but the
    technology was expensive and cumbersome.

    Yes, the screens smudge - so we can clean them. I do
    it all the time with my iPhone - replaces doodling at
    • Really?

      You need to look around, there are plenty of trackpads out there that do various levels of multitouch, including the netbooks. Maybe they don't do as much or do it as well as Apple...but I always figured if Apple had ever had a decent mouse, they wouldn't have had to do the trackpad thing in the first place.
      And HP now has touchscreen on some of its LATEST technology...and its cheaper than most Macs, despite having much larger screens!

      But I'm with you on the cleaning thing, its a non-issue.
  • RE: Is our resident millennial a dinosaur, too?

    So if keyboards and touch screens are such vermin ridden items that we need to keep wipes handy to clean them after use, has anyone thought of what you should do with the extraordinarily filthy money we all handle everyday?

    Face it, germs are a part of life and to object to a useful technology on hygienic bases is stretching it a bit. Find something more important to reject an emerging technology.
    Confused by religion
    • Not to mention...

      ...all the other public "touch" interfaces already out there: door handles, stair rails, shopping carts. Even real touch-screen interfaces like self-checkout machines at a lot of stores.

      The human race managed to survive the millennia before soap was invented and contact contamination vectors were discovered. I think we'll survive touch screens.
      Henrik Moller
  • RE: Is our resident millennial a dinosaur, too?

    I have tried it on some hp touch monitor in some store and I do have a problem with the new touch interface. Doing occational work is ok but if you have to do a fully day's work on a touch screen without keyboard and mouse, you'll be without any finger very soon. The constant drag required on such a screen hurts the tip of my figure. I don't see myself using one all day long. I'd agree that the iPhone touch interface is useful but only once in a while and not for constant use.
    • What?

      So you don't use a trackpad on laptops? People do that for hours a day, with no issues. Yeah, they are smaller, but sheesh! Ever used a hammer or a shovel? People do that all day too, ya know.

      Maybe you can invent the newest clothing craze, the touch screen finger glove. Colors to match your designer ensemble, or the company logo, or your mood.
  • RE: Is our resident millennial a dinosaur, too?

    Touch screens have their uses if implemented properly.
    Basically they need to be a conservative interface or
    be designed for a special purpose device. I can't see
    doing full computing with it like we use our computers
    today but kiosks are fine. Or if you have a device
    made only for pictures sliding across them or drag and
    dropping them in order would be fine for touch screen.
    But typing and constant clicking would be a hassle.
    Loverock Davidson
    • I used to hate touch too....

      And I hate text...

      But now I want this -

      and I will promise to love touch once i have it.
      • clever idea

        A bit like character recognition or voice recognition, and probably not 100% accurate - but for people who don't do QWERTY touch-typing this could be a neat idea. How accurate a typist is the average computer user anyway?

        You'd have to rely on a vendor to provide a compatible app if you have a phone or a PDA - but you could even use this on a laptop or a PC if you have the appropriate keyboard - something akin to these roll-up keyboards you can buy for litle laptops.
  • I've got my doubts too

    I've used a touch interface for years - on my PDA. Yeah, I've still got one (can't have a cell phone at work). Grime is a real issue. Wear and tear is another, just look at the screen on a self-checkout kiosk at the grocery store. Do you really want your monitor to have permanent smears where a commonly used button appears?

    Touch has its place, but I don't think it fits into an everyday computing environment very well.
    • I take your PDA argument and raise it with my iTouch...

      Basically, my iTouch is where I get directions, weather,
      traffic information, how I play games, and where I get a
      suggestion to eat. It doubles as a track pad to switch
      applications, or as an iTunes Remote when I'm watching
      movies. It's also how I check email and surf the web when
      I'm not at home, and my new thing with it at home or away
      is to get on AOL Instant Messenger or Yahoo OneConnect
      (which is their instant messenger on the iTouch/iPhone
      platform). This all adds up to daily use and lots of screen

      I'll be honest in saying that I don't keep it clean all of the
      time, but I've had it for some time now (it's a first gen) and
      the glass screen still comes clean rather easily, with no
      scratches or perma-smears to speak of.

      I agree that the perma-smear at the self-check kiosk is a
      PITA, but I'm thinking it's more to do with the fact that
      plastic screens seem to wear down faster than glass
      screens do. That's just my two cents though.
  • Application, Application, Application

    It all depends on how its used and what for. For some apps, like the iPod or iPhone which doesn't have alot of "real estate" for a mini keyboard and just looks better with out one, touch tech is a good choice. For piloting the starship Enterprise around the galaxy, wouldn't a joystick have been more reactive & better to control than the touch screen panels they had in ST:TNG?

    And about the germs - with kids its no worse than a keyboard. Touchscreen maybe easier to clean (a little Windex or 409 and you're done).

    Of course, can someone type as fast on a touch panel as you can on an inclined keyboard is another question...
  • It really depends.

    iTouch, well, touch is great on these types of small devices. A tablet PC, portable, it makes sense. On my desktop, 24" screen, mouse and keyboard are key, touch is irrelevant. I just inherited a touch screen MP3 player, makes sense there.

    So, the intended application and size are the key. That touch screen kiosk I checked in at the airport with, touch is great. :D

  • More germs please - where there's muck there's brass

    The problem nowadays is everyone tries to be too hygienic. A lot of allergies are down to kids not now being exposed to the range of bugs and dirt they used to accumulate when rolling around in the dirt a generation or more ago.

    And of course if you're regularly exposed to 'whizz' nothing untowards will happen when you touch this dirty dirty screen.

    I'm not suggesting you go and dump on someone's desk, and I love hyperbolae - and there's a tiny serious point in here. Stop fussing about muck. In the long term everyone will be happier (or the ones who still have houses left after global warming).

    No-one will want to use hands to do accurate drawings - but for whizzing (!) pictures around a screen, resizing them, organising files, etc - brilliant.

  • Slow News Day

    I agree with you, P... there are just as many chances for coming in contact with germs via keyboard as there are with touch. Of course, there is probably more potential for damage with a touch screen (especially with child users), and if I had to replace an input device I'd rather buy a $15 keyboard than a $500 touch screen monitor. Not too keen on the idea of constantly cleaning the screen, either.

    Can't really say that I see much of a point to this story, other than that of mocking a millennial that had a different opinion from the author's.

    It was entertaining nonetheless: author has a way with turning a phrase.
    Your Mom 2.0