When to Click, When to Touch: evolution of mobile field service friendliness
Buttons are on their way out – physical buttons, that is. In the latest user interfaces, we no longer click a button, feeling it move downwards and giving the slight tactile click at the end that signifies the button’s action has been triggered. Instead, we have mobile devices with large touch screens, and the user interface’s “buttons” are touchable areas on the screen.
In almost all cases, this is all good. However, we sometimes do feel the need for a physical button. Even Apple, fanatic as they may be regarding minimizing number of buttons, have designed the iPhone not just with the large Home button but also with tactile, physical buttons for controlling the volume and for switching the speaker on or off. In other cases, user interfaces opt for interacting via touch but add a sound effect to indicate that the touch-button’s action has been activated. That sound effect will almost always be a click. Have you ever wondered about the iPhone’s unlock sound? It’s actually the click of a vice grip opening. Paradoxically, adding the simulated click to the touch-based action somehow makes you more “in touch” with your device.
This interplay between clicking and touching is not just a matter of mobile-hardware design or of mobile user interfaces. “Clicking” and “touching” also apply, if by metaphor, to actions of people. When a human team collaborates on some activity, with every team member knowing what to do when, we might say that the activity “clicks,” bringing to mind a kind of clockwork, machine-perfect performance. When a human action appeals to our emotion, we feel “touched.” This could lead us to understand that touching is more emotion-oriented, and clicking is more about getting things done.
I find this interplay of “click” and “touch” to be fascinating, maybe partially because I work for a company named ClickSoftware, often informally shortened to “Click.” If a company – a software vendor such as my employer or a service organization like many of our customers – focuses on “clicking” (that is, maximizing performance), does it risk losing touch with the emotional side of how people use the software? If it focuses on the friendliness and user experience, will this reduce its razor-sharp commitment to operational excellence?
As you might guess, I don’t think so. Even in the world of metaphor, the dichotomy is far from perfect. After all, if you ask people why they do business together, they might answer, “We just clicked.” In the world of business, there shouldn’t be a tradeoff between friendliness and human interaction on the one hand vs. efficiency and productivity on the other hand – not in user interfaces, and not in how you run your business. Clicking and touching can and should live together, and it’s no coincidence that we named the latest release of our field service mobility software ClickMobile Touch
Yet, even as we strive to achieve the best combination of touch and click, I think there is a strong guideline for how to achieve it: when the enterprise software takes care of productivity and efficiency, this frees the human users’ time and attention for what only humans can really do well — interacting with each other in a human way. In fewer words: only when the software clicks, users can really touch.
For just one example of this guideline, see “Can slower service be better service?”
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