Scientific American is out with an interesting report, in which it puts across its own opinion of why it thinks touchscreens will never “take over.”
The report begins by looking at Windows 8 – Microsoft’s latest release of its desktop operating system, which has also been designed for use on touch-based devices. Describing the OS as “fresh, efficient and joyous” to use, the report continues, by homing in on the way in which Windows 8 has tried to converge both the desktop and mobile operating system into one central OS, based on the idea of “touch.”
Using a series of fluid, light finger taps and swipes across the screen on a PC running Windows 8, you can open programs, flip between them, navigate, adjust settings and split the screen between apps, among other functions. It’s fresh, efficient and joyous to use—all on a touch-screen tablet.
But this, of course, is not some special touch-screen edition of Windows. This is the Windows. It’s the operating system that Microsoft expects us to run on our tens of millions of everyday PCs. For screens that do not respond to touch, Microsoft has built in mouse and keyboard equivalents for each tap and swipe. Yet these methods are second-class citizens, meant to be a crutch during these transitional times—the phase after which, Microsoft bets, touch will finally have come to all computers.
The idea that “touch”-based operating systems might one day take over as the primary OS running on every screen we lay eyes on, though, is thought to be a stretch. The publication says this is due to something it calls the “gorilla arm.”
“There are three big differences between these handy touch screens and a PC’s screen,” the publication writes. These being the “angle, distance and time interval.” It’s these three factors that make up the publication’s core belief that we’re not heading for a world reigned by “touch.”
“The screen of a phone or tablet is generally more or less horizontal,” while the the screen of a desktop (or laptop), is “more or less vertical,” the publication highlights.
Phone, tablet and kiosk screens, furthermore, are usually close to your body. But desktop and laptop screens are usually a couple of feet away from you. You have to reach out to touch them. And then there’s the interval issue: you don’t sit there all day using a phone, tablet or airport kiosk, as you do with a PC.
It’s this that the publication uses as its main defence in the argument that we probably won’t see touchscreen desktop computers – (or laptops) – catch on with the mainstream. The reason is because such implementation would, (almost always — unless the screen was mounted horizontally to the top of a table), see us having to touch the display (which is often in a vertical, or near-vertical position, and several foot away) with an outstretched arm.
Try it now — It’s not the most comfortable of positions.
In fact, on October 20, 2010, it was the late Steve Jobs himself that noted that touchscreen laptops would never work, citing they were “ergonomically terrible.”
Pogue goes on to write about his past experiences of using touchscreen-based desktop and portable PCs, an experience he describes as “miserable” … “Part of the problem was that the targets—buttons, scroll bars and menus that were originally designed for a tiny arrow cursor—were too small for fat human fingers,” he wrote.
The other problem was the tingling ache that came from extending my right arm to manipulate that screen for hours, an affliction that has earned the nickname of gorilla arm. Some experts say gorilla arm is what killed touch computing during its first wave in the early 1980s.
The bottom line? – Touchscreens on desktop PCs and laptops just doesn’t feel right … and when something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably best not to pursue it.
As for Pogue’s final say on the matter:
My belief is that touch screens make sense on mobile computers but not on stationary ones. Microsoft is making a gigantic bet that I’m wrong.
You can read Pogue’s full thoughts on touchscreen PCs on Scientific American.