Back in 2009 I quickly talked about the obvious revolution in computing that was rolling in the form of mobile phone as computer, and mentioned as well the fact that touch-based interfaces were going to dominate the marketplace because of that.
Move forward a couple of years, and last week I got my first tablet, running Android (a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, if you’re curious). I didn’t know exactly why I needed one, but being in the tech industry I always have that nice excuse for myself of buying things early on for learning about the experience of using them. Last night, I could clearly see this can be a real claim in some cases (in others it’s just an excuse for the wife).
After getting the tablet last week, I’ve started by experimenting with the usual stuff any person would (email, browser, etc), and then downloaded a few games to take on board a longish flight. Some of them were pretty good.. a vertical scrolling shooter, a puzzle-solver, and so on. On all of them, though, it took just a few minutes before the novelty of holding the screen in my hands for interacting with the game got old, and the interest went away with it.
This last night, though, I’ve decided to try another game from the top list, named Cut the Rope, and this time I was immediately hooked into it. That was certainly one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I had in quite a while, and when going to bed I started to ponder about what was different there.
The game is obviously well executed, with cute drawings and sounds, and also smooth, but I think there was something else as well. In retrospect, the other games felt a lot like ports of a desktop/laptop experience. The side scrolling game, for instance, was quite well suited for a joystick, and at least one other game had an actual joystick emulated on the screen, which is an enabler, but far from nice to be honest.
This one game, though, felt very well suited for a hands-based interaction: quickly drawing lines for cutting ropes, tapping on balloons to push air out, moving levers around, etc. In some more advanced levels, it was clear that my dexterity (or lack thereof) was playing a much more important role in accomplishing the tasks than the traditional button/joystick version of it. This felt like an entirely novel gaming experience that just hadn’t happened yet.
It’s funny and ironic that I had this experience within a week from Microsoft reportedly saying (again!) that a tablet is just another PC. It’s not, and if they tried it out with some minimum attention they’d see why it’s so clearly not.
In that experience, the joystick felt familiar but at the same quite awkward to use, but using my hands naturally in an environment where that was suitable felt very pleasing. We can generalize that a bit and note a common way to relate to innovation: we first try to reuse the knowledge we have when facing a new concept, but when we understand the concept better quite often we’re able to come up with more effective and interesting ways to relate to it.
In the tablet vs. laptop/desktop thread, you probably won’t want to be typing long documents in a tablet, but would most likely prefer to shuffle items in an agenda with your fingers. Also, you likely wouldn’t want to do that detailed CAD work with a fat finger in a screen, but would certainly be happy to review code or a document sitting in your backyard with the birds (no whales).
So, let’s please put that hammer away for a second while creating a most enjoyable touch-based experience.
Thanks for the Cut-the-Rope ref. It really is a fun experience. It might translate ok to a mouse. A few puzzles are actually pretty hard because of the fat-finger issue. (fabric lvl 7, 3 swinging ropes and I have to cut the “middle” one.)
Note also that all tech goes through refinement with age. For example, the quality of visuals in the first PS3 games, vs stuff like Rage. It takes time for people learn how to get the most of out their new tech.
Agreed, in some cases it’s hard to hit the right spot, even more when speed matters.
A mouse translation might work for many levels, while others would be hard to impossible. In either case, the lack of hand interaction would definitely take a good amount of fun factor out of it, precisely because it’s so natural.
I agree with you that tablets are a whole different ground. We need to design applications and the whole desktop experience based on the new interaction technology. You can not just take the whole desktop environment designed for mouse and keyboard and port it directly to where direct multitouch is the primary interaction technique; although “some” people seem to think so.
Android is a nice platform for multitouch and I hope to see more and more innovative interaction techniques grow on this platform. Also, I am very excited about Linux support for multitouch. There are a lot of very creative people in the Linux community and they certainly have the potential to provide an open and creative ecosystem to develop applications for tablets. I am hoping that forces will emerge within the Linux community to exploit real potentials of this very experimental and new interaction technology that has prematurely ended up in the hands of consumers all over the world.