Touch Screen is not the future

While the gimmick of 3d has rather stolen the title of overhyped technology in the past couple of months its predecessor the touch screen is still a powerful force. With Apple set to announce its widely rumoured tablet pc later today and the iphone being the most popular phone handset in the western world it seems that we are going to have a lot of people using poor input devices.

While I will happily say that a touch screen gives a great interface and input method that I believe is an improvement on a mouse in a lot of devices. And with the abilities of touch screen only going to improve I still can not see a sound reason for a touch screen to replace the keyboard. For a start I think that it is a mistake to create desktop machines with a touch screen. I do not want to sit at my desk and have to raise my hands to click on something every five minutes, that sounds stupidly tiring. I think touchscreen though is a good idea for laptops, laptops with swivel screens have been around for years, multitouch makes them cool.

I like the idea of having a conventional laptop and then spinning the screen around to create a tablet pc to demonstrate something to someone. I do not, however, see the point of having a dedicated tablet device. Certainly whatever apple comes out with later today will be seen as a very cool tablet pc and it may be a game changer in terms of that market and of ebook readers but it suffers from the issue of typing on a touch screen being inaccurate or inconvenient.

Every device that I have used that tried to handle text input well using solely touch has failed compared to a traditional button input. This is worst on mobile devices (where such things have really taken off recently). While I have been using a phone with a touch screen for the best part of six years now until the HTC Hero they all had an input keyboard. I tried to use the onscreen attempts but constantly failed miserably. There is no conceivable way that without the feedback of a regular keyboard a touchscreen a device can compete for accuracy or speed. Certainly the hero makes up for this with predictive text but really I wish I could type the words correctly myself instead of relying on technology to interpret what I am trying to say (and it often fails to do that).

The problem is that the mobile industry is now moving so fast away from buttons and towards touch screen because of the iphone that millions are left disadvantaged. Sure it looks flashy that stylish piece of plastic in your pocket but do you honestly enjoy the experience of typing on the screen, getting your grubby mitts on it and making it grimy?

In the latest issue of PCPro (January 2010 issue: 185 page: 134) Paul Ockenden ran a test between six handsets, 4 with onscreen keyboards and 2 with traditional button based input. He then typed the first couple of verses of Lou Reed’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, timed himself and counted the errors. The two button based devices were the only ones on which he made zero errors and he finished over 40 seconds faster than using any of the touch screens. I do not see how it is possible that on mobile devices that are getting smaller and smaller any new innovation can appear that brings back those 40 seconds or the accuracy.

An iphone or my current phone (the HTC hero) could become my favourite phone but for the lack of slide-out keyboards if HTC or Apple add one then I will buy it very quickly but y’know a big ole keyboard is not exactly sleek or stylish and so will it happen? no and we are worse off because of it.

Therefore my favourite phone and the one that has been the most useful and convenient remains my faithful Tytn2. Sure it was not perfect carrying a fairly awful Windows Mobile OS but the keyboard and features made it a true joy. If it had been touch screen only it would have been pure unbridled hell. Slap a faster processor and a chunky SSD on that baby and it would last me a long time.

The greatest phone of all time? Update it and I would buy it again…
image from