Touch is not always the answer.

Touch.

It’s become the new buzzword with gadgets, and a surefire way to get people’s attention. Who wants to use those smelly old buttons anymore when you can use your greasy little finger?! Why have a stylus when you can stab your device with digits?

I’m oversimplifying, of course, but it also illustrates a point. The iPhone’s UI only works as well as it does because Apple spent a really long time working on it. In fact, they’re still working on it, but it’s easily the one to beat. Simply taking an existing interface and removing the access to it that you’re used to in favor of a finger is where everything else has failed up to this point. It’s not about bigger poke-able icons on a screen, but how the screen and the items on it interact with you when you use them.

Nothing I’m saying hasn’t been said before, or better, but it drives me crazy when devices tout touch capability because it’s the feature du jour. Who the hell needs a printer with a touch screen? Who the hell needs a printer anymore for that matter? I know. We’re not all there yet. 

But look at the first (and possibly second) BlackBerry Storm – a perfect example of how touch took a good idea and made it suck. I had a BlackBerry Curve before my iPhone, and it was a seriously solid device. BBs always have been killer at what they do best – push messaging with small hardware keyboards. Jump on the touch train, and the phone falls apart. You just can’t force a sea change in user interaction like that without redesigning the OS from the ground up to accept that kind of input. Add in a failed experiment in haptics, and you start to realize why “one giant button” was a bad idea from the start.

And the full desktop PCs that have giant touch screens? Why would you want to sit at a desk and do that? Simply to do away with the mouse-keyboard combo? I guarantee after you’re done showing everyone who would give a crap how rad it is that you’re going back to your other computer, or just plugging in those peripherals.

Innovation isn’t coming from following someone’s good lead and smashing it together with whatever you’ve done already. It comes from taking a good idea that you had and building it up – or tearing it down yourself and building something new. Palm did it with WebOS when everyone thought they were washed up, RIM needs to do it with their OS too, if they want to keep moving into the consumer, non-enterprise space. Windows Mobile… don’t even get me started on that one. Talk about squandering an opportunity by resting on your laurels.

Everything in tech right now – at least the majority of the mobile consumer electronics space – seems like a giant me-too; everyone’s got an app store now, and everyone’s adding touch. There’s a place for buttons in our world, and plenty of arguments against them. But we all lose when companies don’t choose to innovate and keep polishing up hackneyed ideas and calling them new. But luckily, enough companies are getting it right, and we’re moving into one of the most exciting times we’ve ever seen in the CE space.

Author: Seth Clifford

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