Touching the Future

The conversation about touchscreen desktops is surprisingly controversial, but definitely necessary for determining the future of businesses. While the high-tech community seems to have adopted a “we should because we could” stance, many users still disagree. This resistance to touch technology has contributed to general dislike of Windows 8, and the same users will likely reject Windows 10 as well (or resist upgrading for as long as possible). Transitioning to touchscreen desktops will not be an easy, seamless process.

Touchscreens, as many other innovations, have the potential to overturn and expand the way we interact with technology. The issue with converting desktops seems to be about whether touch will replace other input devices. However, this is not the primary purpose of touch technology.

Why Not

Opponents of touch technology cite some valid reasons for resisting overhaul of business desktops. What seems to be the biggest problem is the dreaded “gorilla arm” (tired arms resulting from constantly raising an arm up to reach for the computer screen). This particular issue is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean touch technology is useless – it just means we need to adapt our current practices to incorporate it. Current monitors are vertical and usually located at least a foot or two away, which makes it difficult and inconvenient to touch them constantly; Steve Jobs himself said “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical”. So here’s the solution: tilt the screen like a convertible laptop (the recommended angle for tapping and typing is about 30°). No more 90° eye-level screens mean no more gorilla arms.

Clearly, a touchscreen computer will not be the same as previous models of monitors; both the hardware and the software will be custom-made for its special capabilities. Manufacturers are already adapting combined input and display devices to fit consumer needs. Microsoft’s development of Windows 8 and Windows 10 suggests that the tech giant has jumped the gun and assumes all users want and will have a touchscreen device. While this is clearly not true for a large population of computer users, it is important to note that we are moving away from the awkward phase of the first experimental touch screen surfaces and toward a generation of intuitive, nimble machines. The fact is that touchable screens are more user-friendly, and seem to be the natural progression of technology advancement.

But How?

Just because touchscreen desktops are the eventual future of computers, doesn’t mean you should go out and buy one for each of your employees tomorrow. Your individual business’s needs depend on the nature of the work you do. If you have a company that spends the majority of time filling out spreadsheets and databases, touch technology will likely hinder productivity. Other types of work that require less input and typing will likely benefit from touchscreen computers. The largest market that currently finds them to be advantageous is the retail industry; in this fast-paced, customer-focused environment where employees need to train and move quickly, touchscreens have become a standard.

Another important factor is your employees’ current technology preferences and familiarity. If your company relies on hiring young employees, you will find that this generation that grew up alongside iPads and iPhones will expect, and work most efficiently with, this type of technology. In just a few years, you may find yourself teaching the masters of new technology to use your outdated PCs. When that time comes, you will need to upgrade.

Your consumers, however, are the most important piece of this high-tech puzzle. They are becoming increasingly familiar with touchscreen technology, and the popular operating systems will leave you and your company in the dust if you don’t board the train. Consumers will likely use touch desktops in ways that a traditional workstation is not suited for. They are far more intuitive to use, and do not necessarily require a mouse and a keyboard. This means in addition to converting your employees’ workstations, you could set up touchscreen desktops for your customers to browse merchandise without putting your entire selection physically on display. A digital display can quickly provide detailed information and a wide array of options to your customers, and at the same time avoid dissatisfaction from customers who have bad experiences with sales representatives or prefer not to wander around the store.

Touch will Change Computing

Just like the invention of the mouse, this new technology will take some getting used to before it is widely accepted in the workplace. Of course you can do just about everything that computers do with a mouse and keyboard. But with touch technology we could get so much more done; the math is simple, you have ten fingers but only one mouse pointer. Back in the 80s when the mouse was first introduced, many people wondered why they would ever need it. Operating systems at the time were built to do everything with a keyboard, so why invent a mouse? With the advent of Windows 10, the futuristic touch-focused operating system is now a rapidly-expanding reality. But there is still room in Windows 10 and future operating systems for users who prefer or even need their input equipment. Integrating touch allows for new capabilities and programs designed to do impressive things, but don’t panic. The only way we’ll get rid of other inputs is if they naturally fall by the wayside as our technology moves beyond them.

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