Touch interface for good

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Touch screen NYC ticket vending machine (photo credit: yuen_long / flickr)

Here’s a comment I posted on Changemakers AshokaTech discussion board in response to question How would you use touch-screen technology for good?

Following our blog post on touch-screen technology, I’d love to hear about your ideas on how we can make such technology work for the social sector, or if you’ve heard of organizations that are already doing so.

The great thing about touch interfaces are in the ease of use. It is intuitive. I moved to Korea two years ago and learning to type in Korean on a keyboard or a cell phone was not without its pain. Computers have a keyboard and mouse as its main input devices, however the use of these have to be learned. Not so with a touch-enabled device.

Touch-enabled devices is closer to how the real world works. You directly press buttons on the screen rather than moving the pointer with a mouse to a graphic that represents a button and click on the mouse that in turn simulates pressing the button on the screen.

Touch devices are intuitive to use. Look at a well designed touch-enabled subway ticket vending machine. The ones in New York thousands of tourists use every day without having ever used them before.

Computers 20-30 years ago were only accessible to those who were trained to use them. Windows (or MacOS) is a big step but it still has a learning curve. Use an iPod Touch for the first time and the learning experience is actually enjoyable. That’s the power that an intuitive touch interface brings.

So the potentials are huge. For those who do not use PCs or laptops everyday it can be a way to overcome the digital barrier. It can be used to bridge the digital divide. For kids, it’s a more intuitive, educational device. For the elderly, its a more humane interface especially for those with arthritis. For developing countries, its a better way for them to access information.

Displays, touch-screens and processing power are becoming cheaper everyday. I spent a whole week without using my laptop while it was in repair, surviving on my iPod Touch. It was possible, and this opened my eyes to the future that will be touch-enabled smaller devices that are as powerful as PC’s, but infinitely more portable and intuitive to use.

I would love to hear more about the actual application in the social sector.