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February 9, 2009

Enough With The Touch Screens

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 7:08 pm

buy modafinil portugal Touch Screens are trendy, I get it – but that doesn’t make them the right choice in all of the latest gadgets.

When I had to pick up my parents from the airport today, I borrowed their new Minivan to do the job. I refuse to drive my Mazda on these winter potholes, and there’s no way there were going to fit in my Jeep. Aside from not being able to find the washer fluid button, the touch screen in the center console really annoyed me. I realized that I had to constantly take my eyes off the road as I tried to change radio stations on the freeway. It’s the same problem I have when trying to dial my iPhone while driving: There’s no tactile feedback.

I’m about as old school as a 27 year old can get. I can touch type in both regular and Dvorak. I can use the number pad and special symbols on a keyboard without looking, and I can even crunch numbers on a calculator without looking – that goes for regular and Polish layouts.

Before my iPhone I had a nextel i730. It didn’t have internet, and it didn’t have a touch screen. What it did have though was buttons. Buttons that had a raised dot on some of them so that I could feel my way around the keyboard. This meant I could effectively dial a number without looking. If I knew the order of somebody’s name in my contact list I could even hit “contact list”, down down down down, talk and select the right person. Thanks to the speakerphone, I didn’t even need to take the phone out of the cup holder.

I can’t do any of that now, and thanks to the trendiness of touch screens, I can’t even change a radio station anymore without looking at the screen. Now I’m seeing touch screen phones, mp3 players, laptops, cars, everything – and it’s making me sick. In most cases a touch screen isn’t the right answer. It may seem cool, but it’s also counter productive.

In my college days I worked at Wendys as a manager. When we switched to touch screens, order taking became a much longer process. Before the touch screens I could take an order without having to look at the screen. That meant I could have one hand out the window making change with a car while the other one pressed the corresponding buttons on the keypad. In fact, that method alone had my store setting multiple drive through speed records.

When the touch screens came in, there was no way to tell what you were pressing on the screen. The smarter employees quickly learned to just remember an order and type it all in after they made change for the car at the window, but the customer accuracy screen prevented that. People simply stopped ordering until they saw the last thing they said show up. Order taking went from averaging 6 seconds per car to averaging over 20 seconds per car. In addition, the screens quickly became all fingerprinted up and blurred on the most pressed areas. The average life of a screen became about 2 years.

Clearly, the touch screen didn’t work as good as the old fashioned typewriter style computers.

So before you start putting touch screens into places where they don’t make sense – think about it. Are you using a touch screen because it’s cool and trendy, or does it really make your product more usable?


  1. Touch screens are the way of the future my friend. For other interfaces that may require an interaction via other senses, you’ve got voice commands and eventually that mind reading stuff.

    I agree though, in car touch screens while driving are dangerous. But I love my iPhone and prefer the slim profile that removing buttons allows for.

    Comment by The Weakonomist — February 9, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

  2. I agree haptics are the thing needed in most of these devices. That’s why I love my G1 – touchscreen for quick tasks, navigation etc, but physical keyboard for typing, which as you say, I can do without actually looking,

    Comment by Alexander — February 12, 2009 @ 10:42 am

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