Well, here’s the thing, as Christopher Mims at Technology Review brilliantly points out: touch is a powerful, powerful thing. And not the sterile, featureless version that passes for “touch” on your iPad. I’m talking about the physical, primal, ultra-high-res sensorium that you experience from interacting with everyday objects in the real world. Our brains and hands evolved they way they did for a reason, and virtual displays and interfaces simply don’t “click” with the kind of infomation-processing we’ve evolved to do so well. Deep, spatial sense-memory — “colored THING in THAT location that feels like THIS and STAYS there” — is how our savannah-dwelling ancestors navigated their environment and avoided getting killed, and it’s still true today.
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Whenever I look for an article in a magazine, I usually remember what the page looks like and if the article begins on the left or right side of the magazine. I also tend to remember roughly where in the magazine it is. I think the Windows Phone Metro interface has done some interesting things to try and replicate this experience, while many iPad applications are struggling to lay themselves out in a way that makes any kind of sense to users.
I’m certain there is much more that can be accomplished in this area. Eventually touchscreen applications will become second nature to people the same way books and magazines did.