Requiem for a Handheld Peripheral Device

The first mouse patented by Douglas Engelbart in 1963

The age of the mouse is over. The Touch Screen is in the process of killing the tiny rolling thingy that injures your wrists if used abusively. Or so it seems. Microsoft have unveiled their plans for Windows 7 (early 2010). The mouse is on its way to being made redundant , point and click is on its way out touch screen is on its way in. At least that is what Microsoft believes. Users will interact directly with the screen and no longer depend on the mouse – the poor thing has barely had three decades of activity.

Lovely jubbly. Only, I have my reservations about the whole move. Not that consumerism will not play its part; just as the iPhone was to die for, so will the new flashy screens be a must with the “affluential” generations. In economic terms this must be quite a bombshell though. It is no secret that the fast pace of innovation is what keeps the software and hardware industry going but this next move is more than a simple upgrade – it is an unshamefaced double assault on the consumer’s pocket and their computing culture.

Take the hardware. This kind of “upgrade” means that anyone wanting to get a touch-sensitive system will have to opt for purchasing a new screen and not simply a new OS. In practical terms I believe that this was always the case since most times the new system would not sit comfortably on your old pc. OS’s tend to be hungrier and hungrier and the would create a new market for bigger and faster computers as soon as they were out. We will have to see the accessibility of these touch screens price wise. Will it really be a worldwide revolution?

Then take the computing culture. The whole point and click business is at the basis of computer education. My dad just finished a basic government course on using a computer. He is 63 years old and he was very proud of this first step into the computing world. I was proud too. There are many others like my dad and not just them. Take those hundreds of workers in Malta (and not just Malta) who were told to catch up or be made redundant – those who took the famous ECDL courses, the self-taught persons who got to grips with the scrolling, the clicking and the double clicking. They were entering a cultural world that has been a standard since 1985 with Apple’s first popular computers.

The implications are huge. The change in culture comes at a time when the global computerisation culture was still advancing at a rapid pace (with thanks no doubt to the internet). Buying a computer is still, to a certain extent an investment but one which is more and more necessary – with the advent of e-government and e-communication. Investments are still being made in a time when buying your loaf of bread and filling your car with petrol still remain the number one concerns among the general public. Does Windows 7 risk being an elitist toy for a very long time? Will Microsoft cross into the market of expensive but snazzy to compete with Apple? Will this be Microsoft for the elite?

I am only wondering aloud. For all I know I might be wrong but I am sure that these concerns will become real unless costs are kept low and the ease of use of the new system far outweighs the culture switch.

Two questions and a remark to finish:

1. Point and click involved moving your wrist slightly and clicking with one finger. Using a touch screen will involve lifting two hands over a screen with the effort starting around the shoulders – reminds me of the film Minority Report. Will office workers be given arm props on which to rest their limbs? Having a tiny screen is one thing – working on a 21″screen for more than an hour could become hell for the shoulders!

2. Given the popularity and useability of Nintendo Wii’s remote sensitive system aren’t Microsoft missing the point by basing on touch screen? A bit more creativity and we could have had gloves (or finger tip covers – think thimbles) interacting with the screen from a distance. To be continued…

3. Finally, with the death of the mouse we can also foresee the end of the dirty workstation. You will no longer afford to eat that oily sandwich while working at your station. An oily screen will be more of a no-no than an oily and dirty mouse. Goodbye lazy, dirty computer users – hello dynamic, crumble free workstation.


4 responses to “Requiem for a Handheld Peripheral Device

  1. I’d love to watch someone play Age of Empires using touch screen technology.

    Hail to the mouse!

  2. Sometimes I have to be on the PC for eight hours at work, aaggrrh, mur arani…

    I think the only way to replace the mouse with a touchscreen is to have the touchscreen in more or less the same position as where the keyboard usually sits.

    I still remember how cool we thought the mouse was when my father brought one home for the first time. They’re quite cute, I wouldn’t want to see them go.

  3. Maltagirl, it would be very bad for the neck to look down where the keyboard sits for 8 hrs.

    Check this out people:

  4. Pingback: Camera Lucida » BlobbIllum

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