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To Touch or To Gesture – The On-going Battle Between Two Competing Technologies

Guest Blog by Lenny Kleyman

If you had to choose sides, would you support gesture-based or touch-based user experiences as the best practice for interactive digital signage at retail?

This isn’t the first time we as a digital society have been asked to choose sides. We’ve decided the fate of VHS and Betamax, Blu-rays and HD-DVDs, Facebook and Myspace, just to name a few. And now we have been asked to choose once more, to gesture or to touch.

From a technical standpoint, both technologies are now feasible on large and small experiences alike; however, they are not interchangeable by any means which makes the decision that much harder.  At Infusion we’ve implemented both.  Here are decision factors.

TOUCHSCREEN

Let’s talk touchscreens first. The best type of technology will depend on three factors in order of priority:

1. The size of the touch area.

2. The number of simultaneous touch-points.

3. The environment it’s being installed into.

Touch has a lot going for it out of the gate:

  • There is a higher adoption rate due to familiarity of the technology.
  • It’s more intuitive.
  • Touch engages users in closer proximity to the device.
  • There’s greater accuracy and quicker selection.
  • It has a lower risk in an uncontrollable environment.
  • Touch leaves less room for interactive error.
  • It behaves similarly to a mouse-click relative to UX design principles.

Yet touch also has a variety of cons…

  • It can be mildly unsanitary for public consumption.
  • It does not allow for skeletal/gesture recognition.
  • The screen size will limit the number of touch-points as well as the environment where it can function.
  • The price for hardware is high.
  • There’s a lack of flexibility for re-application or screen size changes.
  • There are involved maintenance and replacement factors.

GESTURAL

In regards to gestural technologies, most hardware components in Microsoft’s popular Kinect, Mesa Imaging, Panasonic and HD webcams require some form of middleware or SDK to interpret movements as gestures. When talking gesture there are several priority factors to consider right out of the gate such as the environment it’s being installed into, the expected number of simultaneous users, and the complexity of the gestures and gesture types required to create a great experience.

It has many pros:

  • Gesture allows for skeletal/gesture recognition.
  • It provides more immersive interactive experiences between users and applications.
  • Gesture may be considered more “fun” to use.
  • It can track multiple users.
  • It’s flexible to any screen size.
  • You get enhanced ease of installation and integration.
  • There is easier maintenance and replacement.

On the other hand, gesture technologies…

  • Have a small, but real, learning curve for the general population.
  • Require users to stand at a specific minimum range in order to be picked up by a sensor.
  • Are not as precise in user experience navigation and selection.
  • Run the risk of interrupted user experiences because of constant sidewalk traffic when deployed in metropolitan areas.
  • Are impacted by environmental conditions such as rain, direct sunlight, and clothing, which can affect accurate tracking of users.
  • Require more development and testing.

In the end it all boils down to two overarching questions:

  • What is the intended user experience, and
  • What is the environment surrounding the experience?

TOUCH interaction provides overall greater accuracy in selection and is projected to have a higher user adoption rate due to the general public’s familiarity with the technology. Application development and UX design tend to stay in scope, though hardware cost and installation are typically much higher than the gesture solutions.

GESTURE interaction may afford greater opportunity for cutting-edge interactive elements and experience design, but keep in mind application and UX development will require additional time for design and testing up front. However, long-term hardware cost, installation, and maintenance will be significantly lower.

So which reigns supreme?

As you may have figured out by now the answer is not that simple. I don’t believe there will ever be a clear winner between gesture and touchscreen technologies because each has its place in today’s swiping, waving, and flicking society. We have evolved from punch cards to keyboards, from the mouse to touchpads, and now to touchscreens and gestures. The true deciding factor is the type of experience you intend the user to have.

But one thing’s for sure, if brands want to stay ahead of the curve, they should plan for beautiful and intuitive applications utilizing either gesture or touch. Simply looping video and static images is right up there with Betamax, HD-DVD, and myspace, all now relics of the past.

Lenny Kleyman is an Innovation Producer at Infusion

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