That mouse you use every day will be completely gone in five years. It will be entirely replaced by touch screen displays, facial recognition, and Wii-mote like devices that you wave around in the air. This is according to the predictive genius of some guy who works at Gartner and probably makes ten times as much as I do each year. Oh, and his full time job is making predictions about the future of technology.
For the record, the guy’s name is Steven Prentice– if he comes knocking at your door asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars for his predictive expertise, you might want to have some second thoughts. And maybe some third or fourth thoughts as well. Perhaps his quote was taken out of context: possibly he wasn’t saying mice and keyboards would be displaced on existing devices, but rather that for tiny or specialized devices like phones and PDAs we wouldn’t use mice and keyboards. If that’s what he meant, well, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding- be more clear next time, Mr. Prentice.
But I’ll be perfectly clear and as concise as possible- if he honestly believes that the mouse will be completely gone as an input control device within five years on desktop/workspace computers, and particularly if he thinks it will be replaced by touch screen and motion sensitive devices that we wave around in the air, he is going to be proven both completely wrong and astoundingly ignorant.
Here is my prediction. In five years, 80-90% of the people using desktop or workspace computers will still be using mice and keyboards. A percentage of the user population will switch to various touch sensitive, surface based, and motion technologies for specialized purposes or with highly space-constrained devices like smart phones. But outside of those limited venues, people will switch back to a keyboard and mouse for most of what they do.
I also predict that people using tiny portable devices will use inefficient and uncomfortable input approaches due to the limitation of their tiny portable devices. Said people will generally not be under the illusion that those uncomfortable and inefficient approaches to input should be migrated to situations where they have the luxury of space.
Has Mr. Prentice ever tried to do anything more in-depth than type a 50 character message on a touch device? Has he tried to draw, navigate, select text and icons extensively for hours on end using a touch device, either a surface or touch screen? Reaching and leaning into a device is uncomfortable and, unless you are working with four or five others in some sort of collaborative session or poking at a tiny device like an iPhone, is completely uncomfortable and inefficient. For specialized users like professional artists, digital input tablets provide precision input for drawing, but even then most of them switch to a mouse for general navigation.
Likewise with a motion detecting device like a Wii-mote. Waving a control around in the air is not comfortable for more than a few minutes at a time, is extraordinarily inaccurate, and provides no additional precision or cognitive/spatial benefits with the type of interfaces we use today. It is great for playing a game, but sucks for most other types of input.
Years ago, numerous so-called experts predicted the demise of the keyboard and mouse, too. They said we’d all be using speech recognition to control our machines. As with touch and motion technologies, the basic mechanisms of speech recognition do not improve upon what we have today with the keyboard and mouse outside of very specific environments. In an office environment, dozens of people in close proximity chattering at their computers will never work effectively, even assuming voice recognition could be made 100% “natural speech” accurate. Only senior executives in private offices could use voice recognition, and then with no more efficiency then moderately fast typing. Since senior executives rarely if ever type anyway, and since the people who review their work for them can generally type much faster and with greater accuracy than they talk.. speech recognition is of little use for normal purposes.
On the other hand, speech recognition is perfect for people who are already using their hands: folks flying an aircraft, perhaps, a surgeon in an operating theatre, or someone performing quality assurance on a manufacturing line. But such specialized use accounts for only a fraction of the overall usage. Just like with touch and motion input.
I’m sorry, Mr. Steven Prentice- but for a new input technology to completely or even substantively replace the traditional mouse and keyboard, it would have to do something remarkably better. It would have to be faster, less prone to error, take up less space, and probably all of these things and more. Something that is even slightly less efficient in terms of these considerations will not displace the incumbent technology, certainly not quickly. And neither touch nor motion input technologies provide appreciable improvements in any of these areas and, in fact, are markedly slower, more prone to error, and take up more space.
The next major change in input devices will either be a very gradual change over decades, or it will involve some kind of direct neural interaction. A device that can interact with the human nervous system is the only improvement that I could see rapidly displacing the existing keyboard and mouse duo. Such an interface could come, and some interesting progress has been made in the area, but at the moment I’m doubtful that it will come in my lifetime. I fully expect to retire in fifteen years or so with keyboards and mice still being the predominant input devices of choice.