What's the big deal about touch screens anyway?

It’s been 1.5 years since the iPhone began to take over hit the market, causing major tremors throughout the mobile world.  The promise/combination of a worthwhile touch screen and accompanying UI have proven to be an incredible success, with iPhones quickly reaching the top of the smartphone charts.

It follows then, that most other mobile manufacturers (and now computer makers have joined the fray) have scrambled to get their own respective touch screen-centric devices out into the wild.  What doesn’t necessarily add up is…why?

Sacha Segan (of PCMag) has major gripes with this latest fad.  He makes a number of valid points in his recent article, Why I Hate Touch Screens, including:

Touch screens are actually touch-less screens; they’re an unintuitive illusion that we accept because computer interfaces are chock full of metaphors and unintuitive illusions.

We’re tool-using mammals; we interact with physical objects.

When you press a button on an iPhone, you feel nothing. Every button feels the same: nothing. Every action feels the same: nothing. There’s a certain effortless liberty in that—since the heavy lifting is now all virtual, you feel like you can lift tons. But you’ve just given up at least one of your senses.

But, like everything in technology (and life for that matter), there are multiple sides to this discussion.  On the one hand, the touch screen sensation has become somewhat overwhelming (and at times annoying in a High School Musical sort of way), with manufacturers rushing half-baked touchable devices out of their factories.  Just because something has a touch screen, definitely does not mean it is a worthwhile or highly functional gadget.

Take the world’s favorite touch screen device, the jesus-phone iPhone, for example.  How can millions of tech-savvy consumers put up with the lack of something as simple as cut and paste if they are really using the iPhone as a substitute for their computers while on the go? The answer: they cannot; they simple ignore this short-coming because the rest of the “experience” is so “fulfilling.”

Which begs yet another question: why not just let each individual decide what is and is not useful? Just because a touch screen cannot do everything and anything that a mouse/keyboard combo can do, does that mean it is a failure? Of course not.  At the end of the day, most consumers want their technologies to make their lives easier and more convenient.  If the iPhone/G1/other touch screen devices make that happen, then great.  If not, go get yourself a BlackBerry Bold or other qwerty device with some form of a trackball, or just schlep your laptop around and stop complaining!

I agree with Sasha that touch screens are not an ultimate “answer,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in the world of electronics.  Gadgets are essentially nothing more than glorified toys for adults.  In the same way that I might have chosen Star Wars over G.I. Joe action figures back in the day, that doesn’t inherently mean that G.I. Joes have less value (but, come on, they were never as cool!) to some other kid.

Innovation, competition, and especially trial-and-error (i.e. R&D) are all important elements of creating successful technologies.  Putting all the proverbial eggs in one basket (be it touch screen, smell-o-vision, or some other possible fad) is never a good idea, but that doesn’t mean those technologies cannot and will not be successful in particular applications for a particular audience.

Jim Morrison may have put it best:

Come on, come on, come on, come on now
Touch me, babe!
Can’t you see that I am not afraid?

[via ExtremeTech]