Why I Hate Touchscreens

Welcome to first dedicated “get off my lawn” episode of the hotlou show: Why I hate touchscreens.  Mike and Lou discuss how product managers are falling victim to marketers’ obsession with touchscreens.  As with too many things, product managers often lose the corporate product development battle to the marketing team.  This episode is a call-to-arms for all product managers to stand by their principles and make products simple to use, not easier to sell.

I Hate Touchscreens

I hate touchscreens on the Bose Headphones 700

I hate touchscreens on the Bose Headphones 700

Ok, not all touchscreens. Tons of them are awesome.

But lately, products have been obsessed with adding them to everything, whether it needs one or not.

Case in point: the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

They are beautiful.  And the sound quality is incredibly impressive, as is the noise cancellation, and most notably, the background cancelation on the microphone for the party of the other side of a call won’t be able to tell if you are in a mall or next to an airplane.

And granted, there isn’t actually a screen on this pair of headphones. But the volume control and interaction with the the bluetooth paired device are control by tapping and swiping the blank (note: unbranded) portion of the exterior of the earcup.

That’s right.  The controls are using the touch sensor on the right earcup.  To answer the phone, you double tap.  To end a call, you double tap.  And to decline a call, you (wait for it) tap and hold.  And to control the volume, as if it were a touch screen, you swipe up and down.  To control music, you swipe forward and back.

The marketing copy on the website has the nerve (courage?) to call the controls intuitive.  And sure, they are now that Apple iPod and Airpods have popularized these controls.  Astute listeners and readers will note that many of these controls are also customizable within iOS.

But you just have to ask yourself, why?  Why is there no button or wheel to control the volume or to answer calls.  Because “intuitive touch controls” just sounds cool to a consumer, doesn’t it?

When to Use a Touchscreen

When the surface area of the controls is limited to space that needs to include a lot of controls, so the surface has to change its appearance to allow additional controls.

If a touchscreen is introduced when those aren’t the criteria, most users do at some point ask themselves, wouldn’t a button have sufficed?  Especially since buttons work. And cheap touchscreens break, lose sensitivity over time, can’t be used while wearing most gloves, don’t work if your hands are wet, etc., etc.

When Not To Use a Touchscreen

Hating Bose Headphone Touchscreens

Hating Bose Headphone Touchscreens

There’s a specific time and a place to use a touchscreen.

Airpods use the tap controls because they have virtually no space.  iPhones use a touchscreen because countless functions need to exists on a very small screen.

Now, it might even be worth noting that Bose’s commitment to beautiful design can account for the “touchscreen.”  Perhaps they wanted a seemless, buttonless device.

Nope.  There are several buttons on the device for bluetooth pairing, for voice assistance, etc.  You can see them in the included photo that bravely describes the “touchscreen” as intuitive.

Coffee Maker Touchscreen

Coffee Maker Touchscreen

Test driving these headphones was awesome.  Really.  Everything about them is nice, except when I attempted to change the volume, I swiped.  No immediate response.  I swiped again.  No response again.  I swiped a third time and the volume instantly went to max and I had to rip the headphones off my head.  And a similar thing happened when I tried swiping to move the music.

So, not only are these controls non-intuitive, they are also not immediately responsive. And not only were the controls non-intuitive and non-responsive, there was no feedback at all except for the wait to hear the volume change.  No beep or click.

In UX design, we were taught that things that happen within 0.1 seconds, the user deems them to have happened immediately.  At 1.0 seconds, they assume nothing happened.  And that’s what happened during the test drive.

Also, if you want to spend $4000 on a coffee maker, you can!  Just add a touchscreen.

These types of touchscreens are why I hate touchscreens.

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