Although it was later denied, Bill Gates was famously quoted to state that “640 Kb of RAM is enough for anyone” which is a quote that is spectacularly funny now that even low-end PCs have a “mere” 4 GB. At the risk of joining the ranks of other similarly and possibly misquoted anti-savants such as Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of the U.S. patent office who in 1899 is believed to have stated that “everything that can be invented has been invented,” I will now for historical posterity make the following statement: “Touch screens in the enterprise are imbecilic.”
The utility of touch screens breaks down in the enterprise
Touch screens have changed the face of mobile computing in just the last few years. Freed from the tyranny of keyboards and mice, an entire generation has become accustomed to moving around icons on small screens with a mere touch and a gentle swoosh of a finger. What effect this entirely new paradigm for which there is no evolutionary precursor has on our children is yet to be determined. “Norman Rockwell never painted Boy Swiping Finger on Screen,” wrote Hanna Rosin in the April 2013 Atlantic, “and our own vision of a perfect childhood has never adjusted to accommodate that now-common tableau.” Whatever the long term effects on our race all this touching and swiping has and will have, the magical mystical utility of the touch screen interface completely breaks down in the enterprise. After all, offices throughout the world are filled with millions of people sitting upright at desks in front of computers where they perform their daily activities and the incorporation of a touch screen in this environment is nothing short of daft.
“Sit up & work” is anathema to touch screens
If we are not to be dazzled and hypnotized by the integral ease of use of the touch screen interface but consider human ergonomics first and foremost it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to arrive at the conclusion that touch screens belong in the enterprise about as much as mandated games of Twister. The preconditions of the enterprise “sit up and work” position call for the monitor to be set vertically in front of the worker’s face, and it is this positioning which defeats any justification for touch screening. While in the conventional keyboard/mouse setup one hand needs to leave the home key position and move approximately six inches laterally to access the cursor, with a touchscreen the movement needs to be about 12 inches in an upward diagonal vector. Not only is this a much greater distance but there are more inconveniences at play.
A few minutes of horizon pointing is all most workers can handle
The use of a mouse allows a full cursor traverse of even a 30-inch screen with movements of the hand which barely ever exceed an inch from dead center. To accomplish the same traverse, the touch screen requires the finger to move that full 30 inches. However, the most severe negative aspect is the actual position of the entire user’s cursor controlling arm. While with a mouse the arm remains in the typical relaxed 90-degree-angle elbow position, especially if there is an ergonomically desirable arm rest surface at the desk, in order to operate a typical enterprise vertical touch screen the arm needs to be held up in front of the user as if they were pointing at a far-away horizon. While holding your arm in the conventional mouse position is not going to create undue strain for most people, after a few minutes of “horizon pointing” even the most fit individual is going to start trembling in pain.
Unless touch screens are implemented in the enterprise with hospital ward-like slings to support the worker’s arms for the eight-hour sessions of “horizon pointing” they are a technology that will never make any serious inroads in that environment. If corporations thought that they had their hands full with claims of workers suffering from carpal tunnel wait until they are faced with countless elbow and shoulder replacement surgery claims. You heard it here: Conventional keyboard/mouse is in the enterprise to stay.