Audio/Video, Hardware

The End of Buttons


Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful gentleman by the name of Ravi Sawhney, the CEO of RKS Design and the author of ‘Predictable Magic’

RKS does some amazing work in industrial design. I was meeting them in my capacity as CSO for Rightware Inc. Our Kanzi UX engine enables advanced ‘UX’ (user experiences) for touch screen interfaces. It is a powerful engine that ships with a tool set that enables designers to create without needing to know how to program. By now, the world is familiar with touch screens through our mobile phones but this will extend to nearly everything people deal with. Ravi explained to me that touch is going to appear in all kinds of equipment we have not considered before.

The navigation system in new models of Audi were produced using Rightware Kanzi.

Basically, anywhere you see a switch, toggle, or button is going to disappear and be replaced by a touch screen. This will include medical equipment, dish washers, refrigerators, coffee machines, door entry systems, televisions, and car consoles (the latest model Porsche and Audi cars have touch screen consoles already). The benefits are obvious; touch screens are cleaner, both physically and visually. They can offer greater functionality with reduced complexity. Touch screens are the obvious conclusion to the ‘internet of everything’ whereby we add connectivity to the same variety of appliances and objects that were just listed. Since everything will likely be connected, it also means that the UX can be updated and maintained too.

These new screens are approaching rapid implementation. One of the reasons is that the cost of touch screens is falling dramatically. From Gizmodo in May; A research team from Harvard University has developed paper electronic touch pads that cost just 25 cents per square meter. This means that a small screen would be so cheap it could thrown out when it is no longer needed. This is not exactly something people are doing with their iPads. These inexpensive displays are made out of paper that has been coated in aluminum and a transparent polymer. With the aid of an external circuit, the metallized material becomes a capacitive surface. While the paper is super cheap, the challenge now is in finding equally affordable power sources, as well as reasonably-priced, flexible electronics. However since that Gizmodo article was written, companies like Atmel, Cypress and others have provided solutions to most of those.

What does all this mean? Well, I personally cannot wait for a washing machine that does not need me to ask my wife for help or to read a manual. Being able to zoom in and out on a map using my fingers on a car navigation system is also just as natural and helpful as it is on a phone. To get a better idea of just how far this can go, take a look at the two videos below from Corning. Some technology can leave you uncomfortable, but as far as touch screens are concerned, I think it is just wonderful.