Impact of Touch on WebApps

February 21, 2010

For the past 20+ years, we are used to using intermediate devices like Mouse and Keyboard for input. Their replacements are Touch and Voice. While we are not there today for Voice, we are certainly are getting there on Touch replacing mouse (atleast in portable devices). Whenever we see such fundamental changes, there is always an opportunity. But these trends also mean changes have to be made in current products.

Consider the example on why iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad doesn’t support Flash. While there has been a lot of talk on this subject, the best technical explanation I have seen comes from a Flash developer on why Flash is not supported on iPhone/iPad.

Many (if not most) current Flash games, menus, and even video players require a visible mouse pointer. They are coded to rely on the difference between hovering over something (mouseover) vs. actually clicking. This distinction is not rare. It’s pervasive, fundamental to interactive design, and vital to the basic use of Flash content. New Flash content designed just for touchscreens can be done, but people want existing Flash sites to work. All of them—not just some here and there—and in a usable manner. That’s impossible no matter what.

I recommend reading the entire post.

Going beyond Flash, I actually think this explanation holds true for web apps too. This lack of mouseover functionality could make some web apps and even some websites unusable or less effective.

There are ton of webapps that use mouseover functions for many actions. Remember those drop-down menus on mouseover? Sites like Amazon, eBay, GoDaddy, BestBuy, Microsoft… they all use mouseover. Take eBay for example, the categories menu on the top left is a mouseover event. The action for mouseover event is different from onclick event.

All such mouseover functions have to be reconsidered while optimizing web applications for touch.

Does Touch kill mouseover function? I think it does.

It is not just mouseover function. But there are other things we are used to on the web like viewing Tooltips, viewing the URL in the status bar on mouseover without clicking the link…they will all be gone from the web if we are accessing it from touch-based devices. Is it a good thing? I think yes. Touch has its own advantages and I am sure we will find some innovative alternatives. These are small compromises in adopting the next major step.

Touch changes the way we use the web. We need to get used to it and vendors need to design their apps assuming this reality.


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