To Win Over Users, Gadgets Have to Be Touchable and it’s Only Natural

New science shows that technology that mimics what we do naturally and plays to our senses, like that of touching, will win us over in the user experience. Some are predicting that” the next generation of screens might not even need a touch. Instead, they will understand the gestures of people standing in front of them and pick up on eye movement and speech”. Are the users setting the trends for technology or the other way around?

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Whoever said technology was dehumanizing was wrong. On screens everywhere — cellphones, e-readers, A.T.M.’s — as Diana Ross sang, we just want to reach out and touch.


The Sony Reader Touch Edition, to be introduced Wednesday. Researchers say people take naturally to touch screens.

Scientists and academics who study how we interact with technology say people often try to import those behaviors into their lives, as anyone who has ever wished they could lower the volume on a loud conversation or Google their brain for an answer knows well. But they say touching screens has seeped into people’s day-to-day existence more quickly and completely than other technological behaviors because it is so natural, intimate and intuitive.

And so device makers in a post-iPhone world are focused on fingertips, with touch at the core of the newest wave of computer design, known as natural user interface. Unlike past interfaces centered on the keyboard and mouse, natural user interface uses ingrained human movements that do not have to be learned.

“It’s part of the general trajectory we’re on in the computing industry — this whole notion of making computers more open to natural human gestures and intentions,” said Eric Horvitz, distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research.

The latest is a new line of Sony e-readers that the company will introduce Wednesday. For the first time, all have touch screens; Sony decided on the technology after watching person after person in focus groups automatically swipe the screen of its older, nontouch e-readers.

Research in Motion now makes touch-screen BlackBerrys, is expected to make a Kindle with a nonglare touch screen, and Garmin has introduced touch-screen GPS devices for biking, hiking and driving. New Canon and Panasonic digital cameras have touch screens and Diebold, which makes A.T.M.’s, says that more than half the machines that banks order today have touch screens.

Brides-to-be can scroll through bridesmaid dresses on a Hewlett-Packard touch-screen computer at Priscilla of Boston bridal boutiques, and a liquor store in Houston uses the H.P. screen as a virtual bartender, giving customers instructions for mixing drinks. The screens also show up on exercise machines, in hospitals, at airport check-in terminals and on Virgin America airplanes.

“Everyone who touches or takes a reader in their hand, they touch the screen,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. “It’s what we do.”


Photo-Driven, Multiple-Element Magazines a ‘Tough Nut’ on E-Readers

Jason Fell of sits down with Hal Greenberg, a Partner at VSS Structured Capital Funds to discuss the future of magazine publishing

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Not long after media and information private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson released its annual communications industry forecast, I spoke with partner Hal Greenberg about the firm’s projections for consumer and trade magazines through 2014. In regard to consumer publishing, Greenberg said all eyes will be on how the flood of e-readers to the market will continue to affect business moving forward.

“What will be interesting is what impact the iPads and Kindles of the world will have on consumer magazines,” Greenberg said. “Right now, the subscription models aren’t particularly good. But, that will ultimately change. We think they will be a significant factor over the next several years.”

Greenberg, a partner of VSS Structured Capital Funds, continued, adding some thoughts on how magazines might have more success than others in making the jump to reading devices:

When you look at consumer magazines, there are all different types. You have types like Time and Newsweek, which are primarily narrative, story driven. Those are easy on the iPad. When you look at, say, a beauty magazine, the whole look of the physical magazine is very important. That, I think, will be more of a challenge on the iPad—those types of magazines might actually withstand better in print on the newsstand.

A magazine like Vogue, for instance, which is so beautiful on page, is a tough nut on an iPad. The glossy design is unique and how that makes its way to an iPad is a difficult thing. Meanwhile, a Newsweek or a Time or the Atlantic is pretty easy, actually better, on the iPad. You can easily pick the stories you want to get into versus having so many smaller elements.

Well, Vogue hasn’t made it to the iPad yet, but sister title Glamour has. Like Vogue, Glamour is known for glossy pictures and multiple style elements. And still, publisher Condé Nast is excited for the app, which was built in-house and announced last week.