January 27th, 2010

Virtual Madness

Virtual Madness

It looks like Apple is further perpetuating the bizarre notion that the lack of a physical keyboard/keypad is somehow a good thing:


(In case the link dies at some point, it's to a story about Apple's forthcoming "iPad," which is basically an iPod Touch/iPhone on steroids.)

I'm sure touchscreen interfaces can be a lovely supplement to more traditional physical interfaces in some contexts, but what Apple seems to be forgetting, with this whole "virtual keyboard" trend, is that tactile feedback is at least as important a part of the user interface experience as the visual component, if not more so. Why do you think, for instance, that luxury automobile manufacturers are so focused on the physical feel of their switchgear, as much as on the look and layout?

Aside from the fact that it's downright impossible to touch-type accurately on any keyboard that you can't actually feel -- which basically means we'd be moving into an age of full-time 100% predictive auto-correction, where our computing devices are constantly second-guessing our every intenton -- there's just something inherently unsatisfying about banging away with your fingers on a surface that doesn't react in any physically discernible way.

I'm afraid the virtual keyboard is yet another case of a "cool," "ooh-ahh" idea being taken way too far at the expense of practicality, and I sincerely hope that even though Apple has taken leave of reality on this point, that the rest of the industry continues to demonstrate a reasonable measure of common sense.