Tactile feedback on touchscreens – is it worth it?

Note: This post is over 4 years old. It was first published in August 2008

blackberrythunderqwerty.jpg

Quite a few new handsets are offering tactile feedback on their touchscreens, like the Blackberry Thunder, pictured above. I can’t help thinking that because the manufacturers can’t do multitouch properly, they are opting to enrich their feature lists in other ways.
Is it really a valuable feature? In concept, tactile feedback is wonderful. It is the reason that real keyboards are way easier to use than on a touchscreen. However, the execution is quite different. Consider the micro-interaction of pushing your finger down on a key on a real keyboard or keypad:

  1. You line your finger up as best you can
  2. The tactile landscape of the device tells you whether you have lined up your finger properly or if you are overlapping with other keys
  3. As your finger presses down, you get a satisfying ‘click’, letting you know that it worked.

In other words, you get tactile feedback before the act as well as after the act. Most important is the feedback beforehand, since it allows you to adjust your action accordingly. The reason why all these new handsets are missing the point is that they only give after the act feedback. It’s a vague confirmation. Essentially it’s saying “Yeah, you pressed a key. You wont know which one, though, until you look at the screen.”

So, what should they be doing instead? Concentrating on honing the primary features. Adding enhancements that offer deep, lasting value rather than just an additional bullet point on the promotional materials.

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