For all the hyperbole about the mouse being dead, no one has called out the Magic Trackpad for being what it really is—just a better mouse. Though it is touch based and enables certain gestures, the power of a real touch based OS like iOS is in direct manipulation via a touch screen. Here’s how I put it in my chapter on iOS UI in iPhone User Interface Design Projects:
“One of the keys to creating great UI on the iPhone is taking a step back and thinking a bit about how users actually interact with the iPhone—with their fingers. Yes, that’s incredibly obvious, but something so obvious generally caries significance that few people take the time to explore.
The finger is an incredibly efficient pointing device, far more efficient than the mouse. When the mouse was first introduced, it revolutionized human interaction with computers. I would argue that Apple’s multitouch interface [on a touch screen] will, in time, prove to be even more revolutionary.
A mouse [and the mouse-like Magic Trackpad] manifests an unnatural disconnect between the motion of the user’s hand and the action on screen. Most people these days have used a computer enough to be somewhat accustomed to the mouse, but if you watch someone use a computer for the first time, you’ll see a definite learning curve to using a mouse! I’ve even noticed a bit of a learning curve when using a new mouse or tracking settings with which I’m unfamiliar.
But the human finger, that’s something just about every human is quite accustomed to using. We’ve learned since birth how to control our fingers with an amazing level of precision and speed. Imagine if you were to attempt playing the piano with a mouse. Your tune would be choppy and unmusical at best. A touch-screen piano, however, would be playable, even if it didn’t match a real piano for feel and accuracy. The more I thought about the finger as a means of interaction the more intrigued I was by how drastic the shift was from the mouse to multitouch [on a touch screen]. That’s when it finally hit me. Taps are cheap!
If the appropriate action is obvious to the user, the time actually required for that user to tap the proper spot on the screen is miniscule. Confusion about where to tap wastes far more time than an extra tap.
Again, this conclusion may seem quite obvious. After all, ambiguity has been a challenge in all human computer interfaces, and reducing ambiguity has been one of the pillars of good interface design. But the iPhone is the first graphical computer interface where the speed and precision of the pointing device makes the physical action of pointing almost irrelevant when considering the time it takes to accomplish a specific result. Let that sink in for a minute—taps are cheap.”
Using a mouse (and mouse-like Magic Trackpad) is expensive. Moving the cursor around a screen and precisely aligning it with buttons and performing other actions takes significant time and skill compared to direct manipulation with fingers on a touch screen. The gestures of the Magic Trackpad do make certain actions faster and more natural, but it’s still just indirect manipulation of objects on a remote screen.
To better understand what I’m saying, think about a Magic Trackpad piano where different parts of the trackpad triggered different keys. Sure you could use more fingers and eventually do better than a mouse based piano, but there would be a HUGE learning curve as you memorized the position and spacing of the keys on the blank surface. And if the piano keys were just buttons on a computer screen, the Magic Trackpad gives no advantage over a traditional mouse, you’d still be moving a single cursor around a remote screen.
The Magic Trackpad is a small evolutionary step in human computer interaction, touch screen multitouch is revolutionary and will live on long after the mouse really dies.
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