We are in the midst of a dramatic shift in human-computer interaction. The inputs, devices and mental models we’ve had to adapt to in order to get this far are slowly becoming obsolete. Even an “average” computer user has already been re-wired and adapted to the hundreds of mental hurdles that a traditional computer interface throws in our way.
However, a new way of interacting with computers is on the verge of changing the way future generations interact with and experience personal computing. The multi-touch enabled devices are already beginning to proliferate: Apple sold 1 million multitouch-enabled iPads in 28 days. That’s 35,700 per day. Last quarter (Q1 2010) they sold 97,000 multitouch-enabled iPhones per day. In February, 2010 about 60,000 multitouch-enabled Android phones were being sold per day. Add that up and you are looking at 192,700 touch-based devices making it into consumers hands per day (source).
The tsunami is building. Not only are multi-touch interfaces finding their way into more and more hands, those hands are increasingly more adept at navigating, consuming and utilizing the devices to accomplish more and more tasks every day.
So why is this something we, as user experience professionals, need to pay attention to? Let me answer this with a story.
At the age of 10 months, my daughter picked up my iPhone one morning, took her index finger and swiped it across the bottom of the screen and unlocked my phone. I was astonished. Actually, I was freaked out. How did she know to do that? Obviously she had seen daddy do it many times. And there was the design. It was one simple button with an arrow and some dazzlingly lit text that made it pretty clear that this thing should and could be moved by touching it.
As time went on my daughter became more adept at navigating my phone and by the age of 2, could easily get to the few games I had downloaded, knew to go to the iPod app, navigate to the “Go! Diego, Go!” episodes I had downloaded and get the show playing. Nearly all of these interactions were the result of trial and error, some after seeing me do it once, some totally on her own.
The iPad was no exception. Upon sitting down with it for the first time, she already knew most of the basic patterns—swipe, tap, shake and pinch—and happily tapped away on this revolutionary new device. For her, the ability to directly manipulate the screen must have been some kind of fundamental connection—the interface revealed what interaction would do. It mapped to something very human and intuitive and she had no problem adapting to it right away.
I believe that now, more than ever, user-experience design is fundamental to the success of products that will be used and interacted with on multiple devices, platforms and integrations. User-experience professionals are now tasked with learning and understanding a new model for computing, as well as shaping and defining the experience for those who may be using these new devices for the first time.
Never has Raymon Loewy’s MAYA principle (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) seemed more applicable. These multi-touch devices are truly some of the most advanced technology we have ever seen, many of them fitting in the palm of our hands and yet easy enough for a 2 year old to use. Such simplicity of use does not come only from this new method of input, it comes from designers that are ruthlessly carving away the cruft and unnecessary visual clutter and allowing the functionality and content to present itself to the user in clear and meaningful patterns.
For those of you ready to dive in, here are a few resources to help you get started:
http://www.designmultitouch.com/ (huge list of resources and history of multi-touch)
Remember, multi-touch interfaces don’t make computers more human, they allow us to be a little more human while we are using them.