Navigating by touch
For Christmas this year I received an iPod Touch. It’s a luxury item for sure, as I already have an iPod that works just fine. One of the big reasons I wanted one was that I felt that I was missing the boat in terms of how navigation and interaction design are evolving in light of the available technologies … not to mention the implications of being mobile with those capabilities. Although, had I known that the iPad release was just around the corner, I might of held out a little bit longer!
My oldest son Auden is two and a half now, and he is a bright, curious little kid. To me it is really amazing to watch how quickly he’s become familiar with and able to manage all kinds of technologies. I’ve had an old PowerBook serviced so that we could use it for the kids. We play Sesame Street computer games, watch movies (especially Cars and Ice Age), and we occasionally watch YouTube together.
Through our activities at home (and reinforce-ment on PCs at his daycare), he is already able to operate a computer mouse and the track pad with relative ease. Here he is (at left) playing with the Big Bird game at the kitchen table this weekend. Many years ago, I was responsible for the training center at a small college in California. One of my responsibilities was to help users transition from a DOS-based environment to Windows95. (Ok, so I’ve dated myself. Don’t get distracted, keep reading!) The hardest thing to help them understand was that there were two items on the screen related to the mouse – the cursor itself (represented by an arrow or a hand), and the I-beam. Some users just couldn’t get it. My dad was an engineer and an early adopter of new technologies, so we had computers in the house from a very early age. Using the mouse was so instinctive for me that I had a very hard time deconstructing what I knew to help others over that learning curve. It was tough. The good touch interfaces I’ve seen so far, however, don’t seem to have that same learning curve.
My partner has had an iPhone for awhile, but she has been understandably reticent to share it with Auden. Because I don’t have anything sensitive on my iPod (and it’s not going to ring!), there is less risk in sharing it with him. Plus sharing it gets me extra snuggles, so my son and I have spent a fair amount of time playing with it together. I am still amazed at how quickly he understood the basic navigation functions of the device. The amazement is not just about him, but how natural and straightforward the swipe and press navigation movements are (and how well they’re implemented in the available software), which in turn makes them easily understandable to my young son.
I haven’t been to MacWorld in years, but I had my ear to the ground yesterday, expecting that we would learn more about the tablet device that has been rumored. I was very curious to see how the hardware and UI concepts surrounding the iPhone and the iPod Touch would be translated into a larger device. It was exciting to finally see Steve Jobs’ demo and the promotional video yesterday, and read some of the early feedback on Engadget and Mashable.
Although I was an avid reader before I had kids, I have’t had much time of late. My parents, however, read a lot, and my dad chose the Sony Reader over the Kindle, thinking (among other things) that the Kindle was overhyped. Mashable and Engadget also weighed in on what the iPad could mean for digital reading devices. It’s an interesting discussion, I’m not going to get into that here in detail because the fundamental differences are as much (if not more) about the go-to-market focus of Apple, Amazon, and their respective partners than the technology itself.
Now, I know I’m a rabid Apple fan, and so maybe I’m not the most objective reviewer. And (although it’s VERY tempting to want the latest cool thing!), I probably wouldn’t consider one for myself, since I’m using some specialized applications on my laptop, like DEVONthink to manage my research data, Endnote for citations, and so on. I also think there are some pretty big gaps in the iPad capabilities (like video and camera for Skype) in order for it to be a truly compelling device. But when I think about the majority of the use cases for my retired parents and for my son … and the joy of navigating by touch, I think the iPad looks just amazing. I can’t wait to learn more. Maybe when I do, I’ll be able to justify buying one for us!