People like to touch stuff. Our ability to touch an object contributes significantly to how we experience it. At some point in your life, you were subjected to the “look but don’t touch” rule– what a miserable rule. When you can’t touch stuff, you lose interest, fast. Our sight is what catches our initial interest and attention, and it’s followed by touch as a medium for our engagement; it’s like seeing a sweater that catches your eye in a store window display, and then going in to try it on. Touch equals interaction and engagement.
A tactile experience is something we as humans intuitively crave. That’s why touch technologies deliver a wildly different user experience, one that we as consumers like a lot. It’s a much more personalized experience because there’s no medium (a mouse or stylus,) separating us from the device. The way they work is so refreshingly obvious– no directions needed. The other reason they offer a wildly superior user experience is because they’re built in such a way that design is integrated with functionality. Fantastic design is no longer an after thought or an optional pretty exterior thrown on top of the mechanism that makes the device work. When it comes to touch technology, design is of utmost importance to how the device works and to how we experience it. Touch screen mobile devices are the quintessential example of how powerful user interface design is in terms of it’s effect on the success of a product.
Touch-enabled devices are freakin’ everywhere; it’s no secret that they’re massively popular. They’ve changed how users interact and experience the web, web applications, and everyday software like iWork or Photoshop. Elements of the iPad user experience are even spreading to non-mobile devices: the new Mac OS operating system, Lion, lets you use your computer in “full screen mode,” a user experience feature of the iPad. That’s not the only iPad-borrowed feature that Lion has to offer, either; Apple openly stated that the new operating system is meant to make your computer work and feel more like an iPad device.
iPads didn’t fall out of the sky like some kind of unbeknownst miracle. Touch-accessible software and hardware have been around for a couple decades at least, and the caliber of it and application for it has been evolving the whole time. The earlier applications of touch-enabled technology did not include design as a technical spec, and the user experience it offered sure did make that obvious. ATM’s, especially the ones from the 80’s, are a good example of old school touch technology.
The use of touch-enabled devices manifested in a couple more places before iPhone/iPad-type devices took storm: self-checkout machines at the grocery store or pharmacy; the software restaurants use to manage table assignments & reservations made use use of touch functionality; luxury vehicles used built-in touch screen dashboards; portable GPS devices were powered by touch too.
My point here is that it isn’t just the touch aspect that makes today’s mobile devices so amazing; it’s their emphasis on user interface design and user experience design that’s made them a technological phenomenon and made us addicted users & voluntary product evangelists.