One response among designers and UX folk to Apple’s new iPad has been to criticise the effort required of users to command the haptic interface. Microsoft’s Surface had the same response, as did the interface that Tom Cruise used in Mission Impossible.
‘Ergonomically speaking, it’s just too much hard work’ is the usual response. There’s a lot of supposition and conjecture there though, mostly based on the received wisdom that less work is better. It seems obvious that they require more work to control, but I’m not aware of any long-term study into the ergonomic effects of haptic interfaces in everyday use or indeed that they are even hard work to use on a daily basis. I’m certainly one of those people that look at this kind of interface and thinks “It just looks like a lot of hard work”.
In recent years, the coal-face of sedentary computer terminal work has been reduced to mere mouse clicks scattered with a few little rapid tapperings on a keyboard. Our heads don’t move, only our eyes dart from pixel to pixel. Lots of typing and lots of clicking. Maybe even a little bit of dribble. I can imagine one day that our muscles might atrophy completely and leave us existing in a jellied heap still clicking our only STRONG FINGER, eyeballs recessed, still darting.
If you’re in a relatively quiet office with lots of people in right now, listen to the mouse clicks and the keyboard taps. It’s enough to make you go insane.
The fine hand movements involved in mouse clicking and typing tend to be very concentrated and very repetitive. When you think about the more haptic approach of the iPad, you’re putting a lot more work in, agreed, but is that a bad thing? Couldn’t we all do with a little more physical work in our life? Providing it doesn’t actually cause more RSI, I for one would relish the opportunity to get a little more hands-on with my work.
Of course, the iPad is intended to help people consume content as opposed to making content (for now, that is). But as a reasonably-priced control surface it’s massively versatile and we might see as much innovation on the iPad as we did on the iPhone. New musical instruments for example. And, if it becomes popular and loved, you know for a fact that the next generations of iPads are going to be 21″ dual display i.e with a hinge, so you can use two massive surfaces at the same time.
Feedback is for wimps
Feedback is when you click something and it responds. It’s a little bit of reassurance that your command has been received. There can be different types of feedback, mechanical, audible, visual. Most controllers such as mouses and keyboards give mechanical feedback. Feedback has always felt to me a little bit self-conscious and unassertive. Why do we need the thing to tell us it’s accepted our instructions? It feels like the kind of design principle that has stuck around simply because it has stuck around.
It stands to reason that as we become more and more comfortable with computers, the interactions should become more and more subtle. After all, when typing, we get a very subtle but obvious feedback from the screen when we see the words that we’re typing actually appear. Lack of feedback is something that you get over very quickly but doesn’t test well when it’s a novelty for participants in test environments. The iPhone has no form of mechanical feedback to speak of. The BlackBerry Storm attempted to combine feedback with touchscreen typing by allowing the entire screen to ‘click’ slightly when pressed, which ended up being gimmicky, pointless and unnatural.
When you see anyone using an iPad, it just looks like fun. It’s elegant, like those amazing sand drawings – try doing THAT with a magic mouse. It reminds me of the way a conductor might control an orchestra or, even better, a wizard might do whatever it is that wizards do. It’s exaggerated, and it’s fun. It’s like you’re commanding a tiny universe. Wizards are ace.
But most importantly, it’s futuristic. We’re pretending to be in the future we’ve longed for for so long. what’s not to like?
Even Jonathan Ive likened it to magic, I didn’t really imagine that he was speaking literally.