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.