Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Why a touch interface matters

April 20th, 2010 by Seb Chan

A shorter, more folksy interlude post – the kind I used to do more of when this blog first started nearly 5 years ago (only a few more days until the blog turns 5!).

Over dinner a few nights ago at Museums & the Web I was sitting with Kevin von Appen from the Ontario Science Centre. We were talking about the iPad and the lack of a stylus, and a possible future of voice control. We had a great chat about changing interfaces.

About a year ago I was thinking about why everyone becomes so ‘attached’ to their iPhones – and it dawned on me that the constant physical touching of the device, the stroke to unlock, the pressing, the sensual interaction, was might be a strong reason why people become so connected to them.

Sure a stylus might be more ‘accurate’ and, in the future, voice control, might offer a hands-free solution, but with a touch interface these kinds of devices become intimate and personal – not just slaves to your commands, but personal assistants and ‘friends’.

‘Intimate and personal’ matters a lot more than most of us as technologists like to think.

Tags: 4 Comments

  • I agree that the tactile interface is enticing, especially when one feels a little bit of vibration in response. However, voice control on my Droid is out of this world, not to mention thumb saving. Why just the other day, I used my voice search tool to find the nearest spinny bar. If I would’ve tried to type that in, I’m sure I would’ve typed “spiney bar” which would’ve sent me to the Blowfish Bar on the Great Barrier Reef.

    • Seb Chan

      Hi Rose, definitely in terms of ‘use’ I’d agree that voice is ‘easier’ but the affect of a the type of touch on the iPad and iPhone – the stroke, the swipe – create, I’d argue, a different kind of relationship with rather than to the deive itself. This might be subtle in a lot of situations as we cultured to consider machines as our slaves, but I think there is a change in the relationship occurring – something that voice control, or the exactness of stylus control don’t engender (both those modalities preference precision and command). Now whether we want devices to be fuzzy and emotive is another matter.

  • Mara J.

    I think the “personal connection” to these mobile devices that you describe above–which most definitely has a lot to do with the tactile interface/experience means greater opportunity for museums. I believe that people will be more willing to take a mobile tour of your museum on their own device, as opposed to a rented mobile device. For museums that develop mobile tours for iPhones, Droids, etc., I think adoption rate will be much higher than previously seen.

    • Seb Chan

      H Mara, I think the adoption rates will be higher – and the iPad, especially, offers some great opportunities for more ‘social’ tours. The larger device seems, on the surface, to be ideal for a family or a small group to take and use collectively. I don’t know whether a quick bond would be formed with a device that wasn’t your own but certainly there might be a different level of comfort – and definitely a lot more issues around cleaning devices! (Yesterday I saw a staff member at Newseum following groups around scrubbing the standard touchscreen interactives after them – imagine the workload for portables!)