Accessibility Innovation Microsoft Software & Hardware Technology

Jeff Han, Microsoft get in touch?

We’ve all seen what Apple can do with touch screen technology, so there’s no surprises there. What with the former Apple Newton, and more latterly, the Apple iPhone, there’s some history.

More recently, Microsoft have been showing off some of their own touch screen technology efforts, which came to my attention by way of my mate Carl earlier today (today being Saturday the 5th.)

When I saw the video, I was immediately reminded of a video clip I’d seen of Jeff Han showing off his touch screen technologies over on Pixel Milk from some weeks earlier (sorry for no link, but the post on his ‘blog 404s on me.)

To compare & contrast

When I saw the Microsoft video that Carl had sent to me, I saw something reaching for the ‘Wow!’ factor, rather than achieving the utility something like this should be aiming for.

Russ Burtner, Product Designer at the Center for Information Work, paints a workaday picture of some warehouse, and gives an example of a foreman managing goods. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well no, it’s a terrible example, actually.

During my summer holidays at college, I’d put my considerable frame to good use by emptying container trucks. And the supervisors and foremen who managed the warehouse were regular guys, largely allergic to technology.

So according to Russ Burtner, these guys would suddenly be empowered to work with their desk-based touch screen system to manage their inventory et cetera.

Not in my lifetime, I’m afraid.

Most of these guys are happy with a sheet of paper and a pen.

At this point, Carl hadn’t seen the Jeff Han thing. So when I sent that clip to him, he was somewhat surprised.

[Ed: I just Skyped the above to Carl to see if he agreed, to which he replied: “surprised. impressed, woken up after the bordom that was Microsoft’s idea of what touch screens could be…”]

While it’s clear to anyone that both examples are couched in what appear to be very complex new metaphors for data management and manipulation, as well as totally new concepts in user interface design, Jeff Han has the edge. What he’s touting is just slick as snot.

Where by contrast that with Russ and his desk, the interface looks slick, but the idea is clearly to impress with lots of needless motion and UI friffery.

When you’re dealing with something that’s going to be used not by the likes of you or me, but mainly guys who’re like our dads, these things have to be ruthlessly simple. And no amount of graphical good looks is going to cut it.

There’s even a moment or two where things just don’t quite work, and with this being Microsoft, you just know these rough edges will end up in the end product, should such a product hit the market.

So it’s clear then that Jeff Han has the touch, while Microsoft are just a touch too much…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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