Response to "Are We Really Going to Accept an Interface of the Future That Is Less Expressive Than a Sandwich?"

November 09, 2011

Are we really going to accept an Interface Of The Future that is less expressive than a sandwich? is an interesting post ranting about how poor a choice of interfaces a touchscreen is. The author spends a lot of time saying interfaces don't utilize the touch sense of fingers.

Of course they don't. There isn't any way to do this currently that can be manufactured and remain usable in ordinary conditions. The author doesn't really give any meaningful solutions to this problem but I'll tell you the real future is in no interface at all.

My mind is the ultimate interface device. No moving parts, no limitations on manfacturing, infinite options. Let my brain create and design any interface I care to use; let my brain interpret any actions I perform however I would like, either as touch or smell or vision or hearing or even taste (everytime I make an error make me taste bitter).

If you are going for the ultimate solution to interfaces don't stop at something no one has every been able to satisfactorially build -- a touch feedback device. Sure there are a few haptic technologies devices around but most are limited to simple vibrations or force feedback, plus braille devices do exist which give a sightless person some ability to read. Absolutely nothing exists that can replace a touchscreen on a mobile device.

I know people say, but I use a great keyboard that clacks (I too love the old IBM monster keyboards and the modern clones) and my mouse has buttons. Those really don't give you meaninful feedback -- does the keyboard go ding when you type the wrong letter? does the mouse change when you draw a crooked line? Even the humble pencil gives you zero feedback when you draw; it feels the same no matter where the lines go. Crayons give you no feedback to your fingers when you draw outside the lines. A lot of what you do with your hands is "once removed" actions where instead of for example drawing with your fingertips you use a tool. A real artist draws with a steady hand and an eye for correctness. No matter how touchy feely my interface might be I will never be able to draw.

A mouse is really a once removed device as well; it gives no feedback either. You easily learn to move your cursor around on the screen by moving the mouse and use your eyes (unless you are sightless) to gather feedback. The mouse has been around for 30+ years because it works. I've been using one since 1983 (Lisa).

Not that a touchscreen is always a panecea either. They don't work all that well on desktop computers. I remember HP came out with a touchscreen monitor back in 1983 or 1984 and it sucked royally. You could barely select a letter with your finger, and after 2 minutes your arm hurt. Touch my iPad works great though for most things I use it for. I couldn't imagine typing much with it either but I never have to.

Could people make a high density combination touch and visual screen for use in tablets? I don't know and frankly I don't want one unless it works reliably for years in all types of conditions and costs no more than a current display. Could you really fool the fingertip with tiny raised bumps into making you believe you are feeling an orange? Or maybe a tennis ball? Somehow I doubt any device with sufficient resolution could be constructed that could accurately simulate natural materials and still be viewable by my eyes at the same time.

If you are going to rant about future interfaces the only one that makes sense is to plug my brain in. Then manipulating my sense from the inside could create any feedback I want. Look the holodeck in Star Trek -- that's the ultimate interface. I want to sit in a closet in a comfy chair and imagine my office is in the palace of Versailles with 500 displays in a huge wall, fell like I'm floating in a sea of beer and smell beautiful flowers.

Until then I'll stick with my keyboard mouse and glassy touch screen.