The Unreasonable Stance: Touchscreens are just a fad

So you’ve got your iPhone and your iPod Touch and your Microsoft Surface, and maybe you’ve got yourself a little pink DS lite. What do these things have in common? Two things: they all share a trendy interface — the touchscreen — and they all will be forgotten in a few years’ time. The touchscreen is a minor blip on the giant radar of human interface devices, and it won’t be long before these fragile, useless contraptions are relegated to the dust bin of history. Why do I take this utterly insane position? The reasons are multifold.

Touchscreens and their relatives have been around for a long time. For more than a decade, the touchscreen’s little brother, the touchpad, has dominated the laptop pointer motion sector. To be honest, it wasn’t even necessary, as the precision and comfort provided by the pointer nubbin on so many Thinkpads is still amazing. Not to mention the fact that so much space is wasted on either side of the touchpad. From a design perspective, the touchpad was a disaster. And I don’t even want to think about the wear and tear on my poor finger pads from all the swiping back and forth – I’ve probably had to regrow my fingerprint 20 times since they changed from the nubbin. And don’t get me started on the iPod’s scroll wheel – we all know it was better when it actually spun.

busted-iphone.jpgSo we’ve moved up from the touchpad to the touchscreen, now. Durability is the first thing. You’ve got sensitive electronics millimeters from your fingernails, styluses (styli?), pens, and Swiss Army knives. What are the chances of that complex fabric of resistors and pressure detectors is going to remain unscathed for long? This is a dangerous world we live in, and when the most complicated and essential part of your gadget is located right there on the outside, you’re just asking for trouble. Next problem: satisfaction! It just doesn’t feel right to touch something that doesn’t give any affection back. Face it, people like buttons, plus they have seniority. You know when you’ve clicked them, they don’t move around, and they’re always in the same place. Touchscreens have been at checkout counters for years and they still can’t get the buttons straight, but when you’ve got a physical numberic keypad, along with “yes/enter” and “no/cancel” buttons, there’s no way to get it wrong.

And let’s look at the evidence around us: touchscreens have been available for a long time, but how many do you own and actually use? I notice your keyboard is covered in little buttons. Your mouse has buttons, not to mention the fact that it’s a hundred times more sensitive and responsive than a touchscreen. There are buttons on your monitor, your TV controller, your gamepad, and you know that in the situation room under the White House, there’s a big red button – not a touchscreen with “launch/don’t launch” options on it. There are even buttons on your iPhone.

minority-report-01.jpgLastly, let’s look at the future: do you see touchscreens anywhere in it? Yeah, if you believe Minority Report, which was probably funded by the Scientologist-dominated touchscreen lobby. But if you believe Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell, we’re gonna move right past touchscreens to the real deal where you won’t have to worry about rubbing your fingertips off onto some dirty screen, because you’ll be surfing the net using your mind. Even before we reach that point, stuff like the Wii and Logitech MX Air have the right idea, taking natural movements and gestures and making them into either shorthand for actions or precision pointing machines. The touchscreen is a flash in the pan, people, and buttons aren’t going anywhere.

Unreasonable Stance is a column in which one CrunchGear writer tries to argue for the other, not usually accepted, side. Sometimes it’s satire, sometimes it’s trolling, sometimes it’s gibberish. Most importantly, however, it is an attempt to see a technical issue or product from another perspective, something we rarely do in our compartmentalized, partisan world.