Personal computing in the future: of mice and keyboards

Personal computing in the future: of mice and keyboards

Summary: It seems the keyboard and mouse are under attack right now and I don't like it one bit. Here's why I think they're here to stay for countless years to come.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Credit: CBS Studios Inc.
Credit: CBS Studios Inc.

We've all read about it at some point within the past year or two, what with the proliferation of tablets, Windows 8, etc.: "The PC is dead!" "DEATH to the mouse and keyboard!" "Anyone who prefers to use a mouse and keyboard on a PC that has anything less than the latest-and-greatest Windows 8 on it is an idiot who refuses to accept change!"

Well, contrary to what these pundits and proclaimers seem to be pushing for, the future of computing sans mouse and keyboard sounds like an empty prospect in many ways. Why do I say that? Read on, thou who dares to question questionable progress!

According to the mouse and keyboard haters, in the future, we will all be controlling our computers by some combination of touch, gestures, and speech -- the latter of which supposedly being the ultimate eventuality as we, (cue the grandiose Wizard of Oz voice), RID OURSELVES OF THE CUMBERSOME BURDENS OF PHYSICALLY INTERACTING WITH OUR MACHIIIIIINNNNEEEES!!! *DUN, DUN, DUNNNNN!*

Yes, the future of computing is filled with sunshine and rainbows as we use computers like Captain James T. Kirk and everyone in Minority Report. Uh, no thanks.

Now, before I carry on to the dismay of those of you already DYING to lambaste me in the comments, let me be clear with what I'm not addressing here. I'm not talking about the use and utility of many (though not all) of the concepts imagined in futuristic videos like this:

There's some cool stuff therein that really seems like it would be useful, enjoyable, and contributory to one's productivity.

No, what I'm talking about is the notion that a mouse and keyboard are useless, cognitive burdens that the tech industry can't usher out fast enough. What a bunch of nonsense. Personally, I view the mouse and keyboard as timeless necessities of computing: things that don't need to be done away with and replaced by gimmicky offerings of touch, gesture, or speech. I don't care if those things supposedly save me .039849282 nano-seconds-worth of neuronal activity in certain scenarios; that's not worth the MASSIVE trade-off of everything I get from a mouse and keyboard.

And again, before those of you motivated to blast me in the comments do so, I'm not against change. Not even a little bit! As a matter of fact, I want change. I embrace change. YES, I want better products and advancements in computing; YES, I think all avenues of interaction SHOULD be researched, implemented, and made available to those who might enjoy such things. But don't try to force terrible usability options on an entire industry because you think the mouse and keyboard are outdated.

For starters, nothing makes me want to hug my keyboard and mouse more than the fact that writing and Internet research are major components of my daily life. The writing part is obvious as to why I want a keyboard (it's not so much the writing itself as it is the editing, formatting, modifying, etc.), but the way I perform research would be RIDICULOUSLY burdensome without a keyboard and mouse. For instance, let's see you touch/gesture/speak the following query into a search engine: inurl:ftp -inurl:(http|https) site:gov | site:mil filetype:pdf | filetype:ppt | filetype:doc "Top Secret" | "Classified Information"

Oof! It gives me a headache even trying to consider the prospect of doing that. And I search like that for HOURS on end, multiple times a week. Apparently, though, I'm supposed to want it to take 3-5 seconds just to get "great job" written into an email response. Seems legit.

Related: 10 Google search secrets
Related: 10 Google search secrets

Next, we may be a smaller demographic these days, but PC gaming absolutely requires at least a keyboard. Trust me; I love all the games I play on my iPad and mobile phone, but nothing --  not even a console gaming system -- will ever account for the enjoyment and accuracy a mouse and keyboard affords me in infinitely more enjoyable games, like Crysis, Borderlands, Skyrim, Quake Live, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and PC gaming is far from dead. Just sayin'.

Now, I know this next point of mention might seem humorous, but someone's got to say it: PORNOGRAPHY!

Let's face it... porn is a real thing enjoyed by countless people around the globe. So, for those of you who enjoy a naughty online expedition from time to time, I want you to imagine doing what you do to find the content you find, except, imagine doing that with only touch-, gesture-, and/or speech-based computing. Seems like a lot of whispering and frantic flailing about of one's limbs would be going on. (Go ahead... I know this paragraph is just begging for one-liners.)

And let's not even get started on the workforce. I've just assumed up to this point that people downplaying keyboards and mice aren't including computers in the workplace, because that would just be absolutely preposterous.

Obviously, I could go on and on with examples, but suffice it to say, it's things like these that make a Star Trek-like future of computing, while cool-looking, seem halfhearted and incomplete. A keyboard-less and mouse-less future seems quite bleak, and to get rid of them seems like a thoughtless sentiment that exercises change simply for the sake of change -- that, or to justify the salaries of those who seem to think the computing world should be devoid of keyboards and mice.

In conclusion, I'd like to make it absolutely clear that I'm not saying it's keyboards and mice vs. everything else. On the contrary, I think the computing world should be inclusive of every type of input method available to us. At some point, I'm sure we'll be able to just think of what we want to do with a computer and it'll happen; but that comes with its own set of ramifications and consequences, and I'm really not counting on that happening in my lifetime. Regardless, there's room for all types of users, and no one group of them should be singled out to be done away with -- not yet, at least. So, let's open up the floor for discussion here.

What do you think about all the pundits and talking heads who say the keyboard and mouse need to be done away with? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Topic: Tech Industry

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33 comments
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  • Agree

    "The PC is dead!"

    That's been declared since what, 1990?

    Yeah, the tech press is filled with people who want to declare things dead that are nowhere near dying. ZDNet has plenty of them as well.

    And it's not just about weird search queries: It's also about editing: Cutting and pasting is nowhere near as elegant as with the mouse. Out of everything I've tried, nothing beats a mouse controlling an I-beam.

    "Next, we may be a smaller demographic these days, but PC gaming absolutely requires at least a keyboard."

    And mouse. Can't play a shooter properly without a mouse. It's the fastest and most accurate way to aim. In fact, it's so important that you can buy expensive, high DPI mice specifically for gaming.

    "I think the computing world should be inclusive of every type of input method available to us."

    Agreed! One of the great things about PCs is that you can hook any type of input device to it and it works.

    "I'm not talking about the use and utility of many (though not all) of the concepts imagined in futuristic videos like this"

    Agreed. Many tech authors don't seem to understand that not all concepts are "upgrade and replace." They think that somehow that the new always replaces the old. The concept of multiple technologies working together seems alien to them. I see the same kind of thinking with "the cloud" as well.
    CobraA1
    • FYI, still want my edit button back

      Talking about things that shouldn't go away: The edit button in talkbacks. Would like to clean up a few things in posts sometimes.
      CobraA1
  • Nice try... you can do much better

    I agree with your position that mice and keyboards will be around for a long time for certain tasks, but for such a long and rambling article, you did little to make your case that could not have been said in two sentences. How about more good examples from experience and less speculation. Oh, and spend a week or two using windows 8 before you decide. You may be surprised.
    UscholdM
    • For your reading

      From Windows 8 to Windows 7: why I downgraded

      http://www.zdnet.com/from-windows-8-to-windows-7-why-i-downgraded-7000006922/
      daikon
      • Hear, hear!

        I think the best thing to do for anyone who uses and depends on Windows is to buy the retail version of 7 to install on whatever totally wiped hard drive they need it on in their next computer.
        I like your icon, daikon, by the way. It's been almost 40 years since I was in Korea, and it took me a few seconds to notice what it is & longer to realize what it says. Good for a vote.
        kidtree
        • Inquiring minds want to know...

          ...what Daikon's avatar says! =)
          StephenChapman
    • well . . .

      "you did little to make your case that could not have been said in two sentences."

      Honestly, I'd rather have more depth and detail, thanks. I'm not fond of the Twitter trend of making everything 140 chars. He can say it how he wants to say it, I don't mind reading it.

      Heck, it's probably even a sign that he thought about it more than you did.

      "Oh, and spend a week or two using windows 8 before you decide. You may be surprised."

      He did, as evidenced by daikon's link. Apparently he still didn't like it. Hey, we're in a free world, people can have their own opinions. Not everybody has to see everything the same way.

      Honestly, I agree that Windows 8 isn't all it's cracked up to be. Mystery meat is still bad design, even on a tablet. It hurts discoverability. They could've still had something in the lower left corner to indicate it was clickable. No, it doesn't make sense to kill discovery, even on a tablet. It's still bad design.

      Now, I don't think Windows 8 is a piece of junk, it's still a step in the right direction - but honestly it's not a bright, shining star either. It still has some incredibly bad design flaws. And I do worry that Microsoft might stumble because of it. Sure, they'll recover in Windows 9, but that's some ways away and the market is moving quickly.
      CobraA1
      • I'm a Win H8er ... (get it? that's a pun!) ...

        I tried one of the RC versions of Win8 and hated it. With a passion. I don't own a "tablet" device of any sort, nor do I expect I ever will. I don't have a touchscreen monitor / computer. WTF are charms? Is that what they're calling the frickin completely hidden menu crap that keeps popping up and getting in my way just because I happen to drift my pointer to some area of the screen? I couldn't think of a stupider feature. Oh wait, yes I can ... "gestures" (aka 'mouse gestures'? ... dunno what other kind of 'gesture' it could otherwise be, but leaving off the word 'mouse' honestly makes me worry about what everyone else thinks they are using/talking about) have been around for over a decade and while I have taken the time to find out about them in various programs and try them out under certain conditions, I have never found them to be even the slightest bit useful. Just an example of another function that replaces postive control (specifically and intentionally initiating an action with a mouse click) with vague and random happenings based on movement. I don't ever like anything happening on my desktop / in a program (unless I'm in a computer game) just because I move my mouse without a INTENTIONAL POSITIVE CONTROL ACTION. Just moving the mouse alone should NEVER be interpreted by the UI as a control action or command.

        Okay, the whole touchscreen-centric focus of the Metro ... er, "Modern" ... UI indicates that this UI was designed to operate PRIMARILY on tablet computers (aka "pads" or "slate" computers). The truth is that ALL tablets are nothing more than glorified content delivery & entertainment devices with absolutely NO utilitarian functionality and which make ridiculously absurd ergonomic compromises to perform any action that requires user input / user manipulation of anything on the machine. Touch screen is a horrible way to input ... it's only truly useful for maybe 4 or 5 functions ... tap to select, touch to drag, pinch and anti-pinch to zoom and unzoom. And these functions have no use outside of a handful of games or watching / reading "content".

        Nobody can type for shyte on a touchscreen with anything approaching the speed and accuracy of a keyboard (presuming the typist in this exercise is not a complete moron and knows how to type on a standard layout keyboard for their locale). Inexperienced kids / old fogies who've never learned typing / keyboarding are no more accurate or speedy on a touchscreen than on a keyboard. Speech powered UI? Good luck listening to music while working or doing work in a noisy place. The guy in the cubicle next to you isn't really gonna enjoy hearing you dictate your nerdy email jokes. Hope you enjoy all the rework that will be required as people walk by and randomly drop words into your work.

        Win8 is trying to compete with iOS on the iPhone & iPad ... the problem is that Windows has traditionally been an OS for multi-function computers, and iOS is a primarly designed as a CONTENT DELIVERY SYSTEM on small handheld touch-controlled entertainment devices, and NOT MULTI-PURPOSE / GENERAL PURPOSE COMPUTERS. I'm no fan of Apple ... they make pretty, but useless, devices. People who slaver over Apple devices are people who have nothing useful to do, so they don't need a functional tool, they just buy pretty gadgets that look nice and provide expensive entertainment.

        I use a Personal Computer to (a) have the ability to do productive activities (including work) AND (b) play COMPUTER games all on the same device. One device, one expense. There are those folk out there who have an iFone to play AngryBirds on the go, and an iPad to play AngryBirds from the couch, and a [playstation|xbox|other console] to play games on the TV. And none of those devices are truly useful for web browsing, emailing, doing WORK, so if they ever have a need for doing real work electronically, they'll have to shell out additional bux for an actual computer anyhow. Microsoft advertises Win8 as some kind of mobile panacea that combines the capabilities of those disparate devices, but the complete opposite is true. Win8 eliminates productivity on the computer, and provides absolutely nothing new or better for smartphones or tablets (not that either could be much improved, since they've always been nothing but expensive toys and always will be nothing but toys).

        I also want to address one common comment I've seen in comment threads from the Win8 shills ... "you still have a desktop and you can pin your programs to the task bar" ... you CANNOT PIN any program to the task bar UNTIL YOU HAVE LAUNCHED IT. So ... without a start menu, how do you launch a program you've never launched before from the "traditional desktop" view? I know it's doable, but I also know that it is absolutely nowhere near being "obvious" or "intuitive" for anybody, whether long time computer user or complete novice. The shills and trolls will downvote me and/or post one-line responses that insult my intelligence, but never will they -- because they CANNOT -- provide a logical, well-reasoned, defensible argument in support of the Win8 UI changes. It's change for change's sake, and absolutely NO progress has been made. Nothing is "better" or "easier" in the new UI, just different, and being "different for difference's sake" is just stupid.
        Gravyboat McGee
        • I file a few posts under ART. This comment is one

          Truth and beauty - Saying what needs to be said.
          I have the money to buy Apple toys so I do. And then I give them away because I just don't enjoy the loss of productivity. Apple is a hardware company. MS is becoming one. A new set of rulers will arise as the ecosystem (like Google's, not Apple's) will be what matters.
          john.medcalf
    • There could be a reason Apple doesn't have touch interface on their IMacs

      I recently read a short article somewhere that Apple was showing a lack of innovation for not having touch interface on their IMacs. I've never owned Apple anything because I'm a cheapskate, but I've checked out their stuff in the Apple Store and enjoy reading about what they come up with and after trying out Win 8 at a local store, I bet Apple never comes out with touch interface on their desktops. Now if only they'd come out with a sub $500 laptop like my present cheap 17" HP.
      bluescratch
  • Touchscreen is unegonomic on non hand held devices

    that is why Apple's Mac form factors doesn't have touch

    could you hold your tablet in one hand and do a productive thing?

    touchscreen is awkward and not precise for productivity like spreadsheets, blogging, drawing, typing, etc

    Also Windows 8 tablets are functional PC with Intel, MS Office, Compatibility, mouse, keyboard, USB ports, etc

    Tablets will stagnate as people will buy and not use much like me, also new ~5" Smartphones will affect Tablets

    even ipad, many buying a physical keyboard, (ipad doesn't support mouse)

    Did Xbox kinect stoped gamepads, no because motion sensing is usless in most games. only few

    Did Voice control practical? try it in the office or at home shouting to a PC and annoying everyone around

    Keyboards and mouse and gamepads and external Speakers, etc only ergonomic make sense device as we are humans, other gestures had limited applications

    try T650 accessory if you want mouse and touch gesture in Windows 8 without touching the screen

    also people would like to work on bigger screen, buying a tablet is not sufficient to many
    Khaled Mourad
    • shouting to a PC and annoying everyone around ..

      it is very candid ...
      patrick lion
  • Here to stay? I agree...

    This is true: I started reading this article on the john. It's about 5:30 AM here. I'm up and having my coffee and reading the internet for about an hour (my usual routine). When I'm sitting at the breakfast table, mu ASUS Transformer is docked in its keyboard dock. And while I tend to scroll with touch gestures, everything I write is done with the keyboard, and I hop around what I'm writing to make edits with the mouse I've got attached. Should nature call while I'm in the middle of an article (as it inevitaby does this time of morning), I will undock the tablet and continue reading in the bathroom.

    The true future of personal computing isn't some keyboardless touch-only post-pc device. The future is hybrid devices like the transformer, that are laptops when that makes the most sense, and tablets when that makes the most sense. And I think Microsoft got this bit absolutely right with Windows 8.
    dsf3g
  • L7 G7 G77 K77 smallest keypad

    L7 G7 G77 K77 are smallest keypads in size.
    yes these are slow but have all QWERTY key/key_combinations as MKC (multi key combo).
    L7 G7 free for windows at 7keypad.com
    G77 : for mutitouch
    K77 :
    http://software.intel.com/swfinder/productpage/tabid/85/language/en-us/p-8340-laptop-without-inbuilt-keyboard.aspx
    k7g7
  • The Man The Machine & 7Keypad

    The Man The Machine & 7Keypad
    k7g7
  • Speech will never replace anything

    First, let me start off that I absolutely love speech commands. I use them every day on my Android phone. But honestly, there are a lot of times where it's simply not feasible. Any place that's suitably loud tends to ruin any and all speech commands you can give the thing. Hell, I tried to simply set my alarm with the TV on at a decent volume and couldn't get the command through due to interference. So yeah, you sort of need a quiet space. Only problem being if you're in a quiet place but not alone, say a library or office and it starts annoying the other people that are there expecting quiet. That's not even mentioning the fact that if everybody moved to speech commands for everything, those quiet places would disappear because everybody's speaking to their devices.
    Aerowind
    • Never say never!

      Who knows were voice operations will be in 10 or 20 years.
      From an old Movie I used to watch.
      "Things change. Always do"
      The trick is not to get left behind.
      martin_js
  • Growth

    Take things with a grain of salt. I think when the pundits say, "The PC is dead", they are referring to growth. The PC is no longer in the growth sector, in fact it will probably shrink a little over the up coming years. From a consumer perspective, it doesn't make as much sense for households have more than one PC, when there are devices available that make a pretty good substitution for a second PC.
    bmonsterman
    • Frankly, that's a disingenuous usage of the word "death."

      Frankly, that's a disingenuous usage of the word "death." Death is supposed to refer to an irreversible condition wherein something ceases to exist, not a lack of growth. A lack of growth is what happens when something matures, not when it dies. Death is what recently happened to Hostess, not what's happening to Microsoft.

      Yeah, I'll take it with a grain of salt, but I still think the pundits should stop abusing the English language.
      CobraA1
  • Death to the kbd and mouse

    I need my kbd and mouse. They keep me sane and occupied all day. I write book reviews... the act of sitting and pondering my next word, or backspacing and changing it as my thoughts wander about is a key part of my creative activity.

    And don't get me started on the folks who say that desktops are or should be dead. I am of the tinker toy generation... so that is how I look at the guts of my system. I know that I can always add more memory, hd's, upgrade the cpu, and get a better video card whenever my pocket allows. You can't do that with a laptop, or a pad. I buy my machines based on my buying the last, best cpu available for my particular motherboard before it goes out of production... giving me another 2 years to save up for the next new toy.

    LEAVE MY STUFF ALONE!!! If you don't want kbd's mice and old fashioned mid-towers, DON'T BUY ONE... the rest of us are quite happy with them.

    So I fully understand your thinking and agree with it 100%
    noraadrienne