Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What's the purpose of touch screen phones?

I keep asking myself what's the point of a touch screen phone? Have they really done anything for their users?

Here's the answer!

First, let's take a look at touch screen scenarios that already work well. We all agree that the touch screen in general have proved to be useful in several mundane scenarios, such as when checking in on an airport or when picking up movie tickets. Now, the main reason why these machines for instance save us time is because they are programmed to do one thing and therefore have been easy to create a straightforward user interface for.

The next step on the ladder for such public touch screen machines is multi-function machines such as Microsoft's Surface. When integrated in a restaurant table, such a machine can let you order food and beverage from within the menu or check out wine recommendations on the Internet. Of course, if you don't get what you ordered, you would have to blame Microsoft, not the restaurant staff.

Taking it even further, the Internet framework required for your local grocery store to effectively send and receive information between their system and your refrigerator is now in place. As soon as a commercial system that grocery stores can "plug in" to their existing IT infrastructure has been developed, the only thing you need is a refrigerator with a touch screen machine integrated to save you time.

And that's where things start getting fuzzy when it comes to touch screens. The real time-savers in most real life scenarios can be tracked to improved information flows. The touch screens and interfaces are just the tip of the iceberg that lets you view and manage loads of information.

That's also a good description of especially all-touch phones like the Apple iPhone right now. Apple has improved the information flow to smartphones by connecting it to their iTunes service. In addition, they've integrated a mobile version of their Safari browser that takes advantage of core technology found in the full version Safari browser. On top of that, they've created a touchscreen interface that lets you view and manage this information flow. Text input, however, has obviously not been optimized in many ways, yet.

Until now, full version web browsers have always been a couple steps ahead of mobile browsers. The gap is getting narrower though, as the organizations behind the major web browsers are seeing new opportunities in the mobile world with the roll-out of faster and more stable 3G networks and more powerful mobile devices. Microsoft's next version of the Internet Explorer Mobile and Opera's upcoming Opera Mobile 9.5 are among the new mobile browsers that will offer more PC-like browser capabilities in combination with improved touch interaction to improve the overall experience. Nokia, and likely Apple, is currently working on the same things. The same applies for the organization behind Firefox, which is currently developing a mobile version of Firefox called Minimo (from "Mini Mozilla").

When speaking of Microsoft, it's worth mentioning that most of their productivity smartphones come with a touchscreen and a QWERTY thumbboard, while their messaging smartphones come with non-touch screens and QWERTY thumbboards. One of the reasons they chose to include a touch screen, was to improve the use of for instance Microsoft Office Mobile without having to connect a mouse to your smartphone. Many third-party developers offering productivity and scheduling applications have also taken advantage of the touch screen.

In the future, we'll see more multimedia and Internet features taking advantage of touch screen capabilities, and that's when its purpose will become more obvious to the masses. Luckily, a lot of goodies are just around the corner from many camps. More importantly, improvements in the frameworks that'll make it all more capable, user-friendly and time-saving are also on its way.

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