It’s easy to be dazzled by the touch-screen interface of the iPad and therefore wonder if this is where the future is going. Will the mouse become obsolete as advanced touch interfaces become more prevalent and easy to use? It seems unlikely. Why? Because the “classic” graphical interface has a lot of things going for it.
A mouse enables fine control over point and clicking. As a result, user interfaces designed for WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointing devices) are cluttered and cramped. Options are presented in tight lists. Everything has menus on it. Buttons have gotten tiny. It requires a level of abstract thinking (click over here to effect change over there) that only humans can manage.
And what about touch?
A touch-tablet interface, for all its advantages, must contend with fat fingers, which limit how small buttons can be, how closely packed selectable on-screen items are and how cluttered screens can be. Touch interfaces benefit from “physics,” where on-screen objects move and interact as if they had momentum and mass, and also “gestures,” where specific finger motions send commands to the system. The upside is that touch computing is so intuitive that even a monkey can do it.
So now, OS developers are trying to split the difference with hybrid UI approaches that may be closer to perfection. Some examples:
- Gmail, which has a very touchable list of messages but, in its newest “Labs” version, some buttons that are clearly too small for fingers.
- Google+, with some finger-friendly features but also with buttons that demand mouse control.
- Microsoft Windows 8, a major rethink that is optimized by default for touch screens but will still be used on regular monitors by millions.
- OS X Lion, an interesting case in that Apple is trying to phase out mice and evolve to trackpads instead.