Gritsa Technologies Blog

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TouchScreen revolution or evolution of UI

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TouchScreen enabled systems – ah, we have known them for a long time now. More than a decade as an end consumer. But if we take a finer look, it’s the last three years when suddenly the world seems to have woken up to the presence of TouchScreens. In this article I would try and analyze how that happened and what still remains to be done.

Thinking of TouchScreens, I immediately go back to the late 90s when touch screen kiosks got popular on airports, railway stations and many public places. It certainly changed the way people worked with public computers because it limited the number of inputs to precisely what was shown on the screen. Not having a keyboard at all and just having to touch buttons on the screen was what made it so simple to use. They have definitely been around us since then.

Resuming from the flashback, what do you think characterizes TouchScreen systems around us now? The first thing to hit our head would most likely be our mobile phone. For me its also my Tablet PC and my mp3 player (an iPod Touch). This phenomenon of everything being touch enabled is very recent. I can firmly assert that the world got a bit of jolt after one of the greatest products in human history was launched. It was like Sputnik being placed into orbit because that one incident triggered an influx of millions of dollars into research by rivals. Yes my friends, that one product which you have rightly guessed already is – the Apple iPhone. The world which had known touch screen enabled systems for more than a decade then, suddenly saw that something had time traveled from the future amidst them. We all know the story after that and we also know that now Apple has overtaken Microsoft as the most valuable technology company.

Apple clearly is the uncontested winner. What are it’s winning factors? Of course the super cool multi-touch screen, the very “Apple” looks, and a truly well thought UI to drive it. However in my opinion, apart from being the terrific package what Steve Jobs likes to quote as combination of Art, Science and Religion, it was the UI that truly established the Apple product as an outright winner. It was the single most important innovation Apple ever did with the iPhone, it built a UI that was specifically targeted to a TouchScreen mobile phone. Microsoft has had Windows phones for like forever but ever since the iPhone, no one knows what a Windows phone was! The innovation in UI is visible in every aspect of it. From the brand new controls like switch, slot machine, directory look up, to control behaviors like flips, wobbles, sticky drags and what not! Unlike previous attempts at making TouchScreen friendly UI, this wasn’t just about big buttons and big fonts. It was about easier and friendlier UI elements that let us know clearly that the touch has been registered and something is either being done about it or if it was a useless gesture. We all as product users are impatient and want to remain informed as we use the product. It is precisely why Web 2.0 took off if you remember.

Talking of what remains to be done, well, a lot! All around us there are still systems that have a touch screen but run a Windows or Linux underneath, both of which are definitely not created keeping Touch Screens in mind. As an example, try using the kiosk on the airport. In most likelihood it will have a web application running as the UI. Web apps are “the worst” choices for Touch Screen UIs unless they are appropriately AJAXed. Even after being AJAXed they would still suffer from the underlying “point-click-syndrome”. How about the touch screen system you used on-board your recent international flight? Worse? Hmm…

Yes, we at Gritsa Technologies, instead of sitting and whining about how bad things are and how much they need improvement, are actually doing something about it. We intend to build a Framework which can be used to create both, Desktop and Web deployable applications targeted 100% towards TouchScreen systems. We won’t rant much about it since we are at a very preliminary stage with it.  Although we will keep you posted over the blog about our progress but just in case you like our initiative and/or are interested in it, just drop us a comment or an email at info@gritsa.com

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Written by Gritsa Technologies

August 28, 2010 at 2:34 am

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