Touch Driven Computer Human Interfaces

Our third child, Winston, was born last week. He came bearing gifts for our other two sons in the form of a second-hand MacBook Pro I purchased for a couple of hundred dollars through an auction at work (our three year old son is still trying to work out how the MacBook fit in Mama’s tummy!).

I bought an external Apple mouse (I thought it would be easier than the trackpad) and have started to teach my older children (aged 1 & 3) how to use the mouse, but it’s much harder than I thought. They are both very proficient at using iOS (they both own iPod touches and use my wife’s iPad mini rather frequently), but struggle to use the mouse. They also try to touch the MacBook screen thinking it’ll do something even though it doesn’t.

Whilst I want them to learn the mouse (and trackpad eventually) I have started to ask myself whether we should even bother, since the future is clearly touch.

Different Computer Human Interfaces

The computer human interface on my first computer was a mouse driven graphical interface known as Windows 95 (yes I got a computer late, and yes I am that young).

To this day, I am often the odd one out in software development as I prefer a graphical interface to a command line (textual) interface. That’s probably because most people who work in software development today had their first experience with a textual interface (before GUIs were invented).

My two son’s first experience is with a touch driven graphical interface which is well and truly the most intuitive to them. By the time they enter the workforce I can’t imagine them using anything else, just as a large majority of workers today, bar people in software development, don’t use a textual interfaces. I’ve witnessed first hand usability issues that younger Generation Y staff have using ‘green screens’ on mainframes as they much prefer a click driven drag and drop user interface.

The other day I had to visit an Australian Government shopfront and the first thing that happened when I walked in the door was I was greeted by a staff member with an iPad who bought up my details and guided me to a lounge area where I waited for another staff member who welcomed me by my name. That wasn’t the Apple Store I was visiting, it was an Australian Government shopfront. The future of business technology is well and truly past using mice.

And it’s not just business where touch makes sense. My sixty-something mother has never used a computer in her life, although we did try teaching her a few years ago but it was just too hard (you double click a file, but single click a web link?!?). I took a risk early last year and bought her an iPad for her birthday. The moment she picked it up she could use it immediately without help, and since she’s retired she now doesn’t go a day without using it to send friends emails, skype grandchildren and play ‘words with friends’ with my brothers. She has since upgraded her old Nokia to an iPhone which she was again able to use immediately without training.

Children born now are getting seriously used to intuitive touch driven interfaces so we need to ensure that business progresses sufficiently to support this whole new generation that is growing up as we speak. Just as it is hard now to support ‘green screens’ with Generation Ys, it will be difficult to support older mouse interfaces with generations being born, and using iPads, as we speak.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.