Amit Paranjape’s Blog

The ‘Touch’ vs. ‘Tactile’ Debate For Computers & Mobile Handsets

Posted in Information Technology, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on December 19, 2011

There is a lot of discussion out there about how the ‘Touch’ display keypads are going to increasingly take over from the conventional ‘Tactile’ ones. The rise of iPhone, iPad and other Tablets, Touch Smart Phones are making touch interfaces more and more prominent.

In fact some people have already started writing the obituaries of the good old fashioned tactile keyboard. But not so fast.

I for one cannot just figure out how a touch keyboard can replicate the tactile feedback of contact keys. Or the contoured feel of a mobile handset’s QWERTY keypad.
Touch is fine when you have to type a little, and when you are largely just reading/interacting – but definitely not ideal for writing documents, emails and blog posts like this one. And let us look at some other areas as well. Can you imagine a pianist playing on a touch pad piano? Maybe a ‘Tabla’ (a popular Indian percussion instrument, that has a reasonably flat surface.
Some of my friends who are big cheerleaders of ‘Touch’ (and think that I may be stuck in the stone age…) talk about how swipe, page turn and other gestures are improving interactivity and productivity. But to me they are just better replacements of the nearly 40 year old ‘Mouse’. I agree – the Mouse needs a replacement and a touch pad is a presents a very good improvement. But just cannot see a touch pad being used for heavy duty typing!
Wonder what you think?

7 Responses

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  1. Sojwal said, on December 19, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Interface preferences will always remain a topic for debate..tactile vs. touch vs. voice & so on..no end to it. Each type has it’s utility & space – difficult to use touch for extensive text input just as it is to use keys for drawing. Me..I’m waiting for mind control interfaces to become common!🙂

  2. Aditya said, on December 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Amit, don’t you think you have missed a very very important input method coming up which is VOICE?

    Also, with technology ramping up faster than ever, we are not far from days when facial gestures would be used to input information into a smart phone.

  3. Michael said, on December 20, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Agree totally. Touch pads are great for hyperlinks, screen size, data selection, and navigation type tasks. But awful for data entry, ie typing. I got the otherwise failed Palm Pre exactly for that reason, it has a physical keyboard as well as touch functions. My main uses for a smart phone are email and web browsing. Touch keypads drive me crazy with typo filled responses and slow input.

  4. Amit Paranjape said, on December 21, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Hi Sojwal – Thanks for your comment.

  5. Amit Paranjape said, on December 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Aditya – Thanks for your comment…Yes voice is (and will increasingly be an important input medium). In this blog, I was just focused on the touch vs. contact keyboard debate.

  6. Amit Paranjape said, on December 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Hi Michael – thanks for your comment.

  7. brijwhiz said, on December 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I agree with the need for a tactile input mechanism in situations where extended typing comes into play, in other words for desktops and even tablet devices. In addition to the reasons you have given there is an ergonomic reason for my preference. Typing a lot directly onto a screen must be quite a stress for our poor fingers.
    However I do not concur on the need for a need for tactile input on a mobile device. This is mainly because I really do not think that one should do a lot of input on the mobile devices, as it is quite stressful for your fingers as well as your eyes. Of course there are mobile phones which are almost tablets, i would treat those as tablets.


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