UICraft: Rethinking Touch Screen on Laptop

Recently Microsoft and Google all release their own laptop with a touch screen. People start to speculate that this is the next big thing in tech industry. As a big fan of product design, user interface and touch technology, this is a very intriguing topic for me, so I went ahead and did some research. Here is what I found. Again, quick takeaways if you don’t have time for a deep dive now.


Tablets and smartphones have become very popular lately. It’s so popular that touch as a new interaction paradigm has forever changed how people interact with their devices. Technology has never been so intimate and intuitive to normal users. There is something for you no matter you’re 8 years old or 80 years old. People start to think, if touch is so great, why not bring it back to our PC/laptop? We want to touch everything on the screen! Yet, before we get too excited about the idea, there are some challenges we need to be aware of and address carefully.

1. Laptop UI needs to be touch-optimized for the entire ecosystem

Touch works so well on tablet and smartphone because the OS is designed from the ground up to be touch-based or touch-optimized. The buttons are  bigger so even the fattest finger won’t have any problem touching it. The information architecture is flatter so everything is more discoverable. New interactions like pull to refresh, pinch to zoom are invented to enhance the experience.


Image Source: Apple.com

But what we take for granted on a touch-based OS is not there yet on our laptop. The laptop OS is not designed with touch in mind. They were designed in the early days when mouse and keyboard is still the ‘new paradigm’. All UI elements are quite small since mouse cursor has very high accuracy. As people’s major machine for work, the softwares’ UI are designed to have 10 toolbars with 100 buttons on it, just to increase efficiency. Like this:


Image Source: http://blog.vlad1.com

To make a traditional laptop OS ‘touch-optimized’ is a more complicated job (making UI elements touchable, supporting sophisticated touch gestures, just to name a few) than just draw an equation between ‘touch’ and ‘click’.  It also involves the entire ecosystem, not only the OS itself. Software developers all need to implement the design upgrade. And if this challenge cannot be tackled, the touch experience on a laptop will remain ‘underwhelmed’ to users come from tablet space and ‘confused’ to the those only familiar with desktop computers.

2. Frequent inputs demand minimum interaction cost

Let’s face it. Your laptop is more and more becoming a content creating only machine. It’s really not optimized for content consuming these days. And we all know that content creating involves a lot of user input, be it entering a paragraph of text, making edits in spreadsheets or draw a vector in Photoshop. The users need to interact with their laptop to get the job down. And all interactions, my friends, come with a cost.

For touch, the biggest cost is that you’ll have to move your arms around. Since the tablet or smartphone are used mainly as a content consuming device which don’t demand a lot of user interactions, it’s still OK. But laptop is a content creating device. Frequently moving your arms around, and you have the ‘gorilla arm’ problem. Working for 8 hours and you’ll definitely felt arm sour or even ache. It’s not like moving inches using your mouse after all.


Image Source: Wired.com

3. Arm travels need to be minimized

Touch involves arm travel. The bigger the screen, the further arm will have to travel to get the job done. We can grade the extent of involvement by how many joints one has to use to perform certain level of touch interaction.

Single Joint (Smartphone): Finger joints. Very comfortable, one hand operation.

Double Joints (Tablet): Finger and wrist joints. Still comfortable, but user has to hold tablet now

Triple Joints (Laptop): Finger, wrist and elbow joints. Not comfortable, gorilla arms.

Entire Arm (Desktop): Finger, wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Very uncomfortable, only viable for special case.

The more joints it involves, the harder it is to perform a touch interaction, and the worse the user experience. Laptop screen size ranges from 11 inches to 19 inches. User will have to use up to their elbow joint to move around the screen, and if they are doing interaction intensive work for 8 hours? Well let’s just say they are no ‘Iron Man’.

iron man

4. Greasy screen issue

Greasy screen issue is not a laptop only issue. Tablet and smartphone also suffers from it. But user’s expectation is different here. For smartphone and tablet, people are putting fingers on it from day one, so it’s not a new issue for them. Also since the screen is smaller, the grease or finger prints aren’t too obvious, while for the bigger screen on laptop, they are easier to spot. Yes, users can use some laptop detergent kit to clean the screen, but it came nowhere near the convenience of rubbing the screen clean on user’s jeans, right?

5.  Need scale to lower touch screen cost

Cost difference is another important factor.  Even if touch is a compelling feature on laptop, if the cost increase is too much, people may not want to pay for it. Currently a touch screen based laptop cost 120$ to 150$ more than its non-touch counterpart. This will become less of an issue when the economy of scale kicks in, but it’s extra investment that OEM needs to put in to make things happen.


What are the ‘big boys’ doing?


                            Apple – The Seamless ‘Migrator’.

Apple’s approach on this is a bit on the ‘conservative’ side. Simply put, their strategy can be described as ‘Incremental Migrate ’. They are the first to introduce multi-touch interface and iOS is still the best mobile OS in terms of user experience. If we look at the recent evolution of their laptop Mac OS X, a lot of the UI changes (Mission Control, Full Page Swipe, Pinch/Double Tap to Zoom, etc.) are the mobile UI paradigms trickling down to laptop OS. Apple is addressing the OS ecosystem UI challenge incrementally, by introducing touch features into laptop one at a time.

On the arm travel distance challenge front, they have introduced a lot of multi-touch features leveraging their upgraded Magic Trackpad. User still only need to move their finger joints, yet enjoy most of the benefits multi-touch has to offer. They are slowly educate their laptop users, preparing them for the ultimate jump (full touch) that’s to come.


new-microsoft-logo-600Microsoft – The Heavy ‘Committer’

Contrary to everyone’s expectation, this time Microsoft is leading the industry and taking a big leap forward bringing touch to laptop. Their new flagship OS Windows 8, leverage its unique and sophisticated Modern UI, is a fully touch-enabled OS. User that don’t want to use touch can still switch back to Windows traditional UI. It sounds quite rosy, but people actually used the Surface Tablet running Windows 8 reported that it’s confusing and hard to use.

It seems that most Windows users are not ready for full-fledged touch OS yet. They are still learning to walk, and Microsoft already starts to run.


Google logo transparentGoogle – The Light Water-Tester

Google is not known as a hardware manufacturer. Yet lately, they are more and more involved in  hardware products. Case in point? Their Nexus line and Chromebook initiative. Recently, Google released their new Chromebook Pixel product, featuring a very nice touch-enabled Retina display. From the product reviews, Google hasn’t do any touch-optimization on the Chrome OS yet. It seems to me they are using touch as only an ‘enhancement’ to the browsing experience. They are just testing the water here. 



How the innovation landscape will shape up around laptop touch screen is yet to be revealed, and you’ll never know what will happen next. But the idea itself, barring all the challenges it faces, is still interesting and has great potential. Which direction do you think it will go? Among Apple, Microsoft and Google, who do you think has the best chance of success? Leave a comment and let me know!


Where Does PC Fall Short of Content Consuming

Here’s the major takeaways if you don’t have time to read the entire article:


PC has taken us a long way. As Steve Jobs said in his interview at AllThingsD:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this transformation is going to make some people uneasy… because the PC has taken us a long way. They were amazing. But it changes. Vested interests are going to change. And, I think we’ve embarked on that change. Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it be next year or five years? … We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable.

PC used to be in the center of our digital universe. We used it to browse the Internet, read news, check emails, watch short videos, listen to music etc. Hell we still use PC to do all these things, but more and more we are leaning toward using alternatives. Tablets, smartphone, phablets,  netbook, these are the key words in our digital life now. We are stepping into a Post-PC era. But why? Where does PC stumble and fall short? The biggest one if you ask me, is ‘content consumption’.

We are an indulged generation. We came from an era where content is scarce and hard to find to today’s content overload. We grow accustomed to always having something tweeted to us on our handset, forwarded to us via email and broadcasted to us via TV. We become picky, we want to see our favorite show at any time, on any of our preferred screens (handset,tablet, TV or PC), and we even want to see the entire season in one go (That’s why House of Cards for Netflix is so popular now). PC, having carried us thus far, become less and less efficient in modern-day content consumption.

1. Provide a distraction free environment.

When we watch a movie or read a long novel, we hate distractions. For a great content consumption experience, being able to immerse in it is essential to fully appreciate the content. The truth is, there are too many distractions on a PC. In a short 5 minutes, you’ll probably get 10 emails, 100 tweets, 25 Facebook chat request and 1 ‘Adobe Flash Player Needs to be updated’ notification. Everything is trying to compete for your attention these days on a PC. Yes you can just turn all those off, but doing that will also make you concerned of missing something. Tablet and smartphone do a better job since they are mostly one-task-focus. TV is also good because all you can do with it is to enjoy the show. Movie theater is the best on this, where you even have to turn your handset off.

2. Allow comfortable body postures

We all like to be comfortable, especially when we are watching long movie or shows. That’s why movie theaters all have very comfortable chairs. AMC actually renovation several of its theatres to add power recliner with footrests. Talking about making it more comfortable. You can use a tablet or phone in any postures you want, lay down even. We see most of the tablet usage on couch or bed, which is designed to be very comfortable. PC (mainly laptop, desktop more so), on the contrary, are usually be placed on a flat surface with a chair close to it. It’s designed for people to sit straight when using it. Content consuming is only part of PC’s many functionalities  and people still do serious work on it, so the environment can’t be made too cozy.

3. Access to amenities

We mainly use our eyes and ears to consume the content, but we like our other senses to join in the party too. Yeah I’m talking about your chips, beers and sodas. Nothing beats a cold beer when watching football after all. This is limiting for PC since it is usually located in an office room, not living room or media room where snacks and beverages are readily available.

4. Bite-size, On-the-go style

back pocket pc

Image Source: http://techcrunch.com

With the rise of mobile, the pattern people consume information also changed. Bite-sized information are gaining traction in a ‘less is more’ world. That’s why YouTube initially limiting its video length to be less than 10 minutes, and Twitter still has the 140 characters limitation. People want access to their content wherever they go, whenever they want. PCs are too clumsy for this.



As Steve Jobs has said, PC, just like trucks, used to be both your working and entertainment machine, will gradually lose its entertainment value and be used mainly as a content creating device, leaving content consuming to the more capable hands of smartphone, tablet, or smart TVs.

Gadget Leasing Business Starts to Make More Sense


Most of the time, I felt good owning something. But the idea of leasing a consumer electronic device starts to make more and more sense lately.

1. Forever The Hottest Gadget

It’s like buying a car vs leasing a car. With buying, you have a cost advantage and feel of ownership, while leasing might be a bit more expensive, but you always drive a new car!

See my point here is, consumer electronic devices like tablet, digital camera or even smartphone all have such a short life cycle these days, and we always want to use the newest iPhone or Galaxy devices, right? Always buying new ones are a waste of money (how are you gonna deal with your last year’s devices, throw them all away?), but having to settle on last year’s technology might mean hell for a lot of gadget lovers (read, me myself). So gadget leasing seems a good alternative, if the price is right.

The price of tablet rental ranges from $15 to $35/day, depending on service level and device. I can’t find a long-term leasing solution but I would assume it should work like leasing cars, you get a price premium in exchange of peace of mind and new gadgets.

2. Freedom of Choice 

Tired of iPad and want to try the new Galaxy tablet? Want a smaller iPad Mini instead of the bigger iPad 2? Prefer an E-Ink Kindle for better reading experience? Want to try out the new Chromebook Pixel to get a taste of future technology? With leasing model you can do them all without ditching out too much money. Everyone love to have choices. Having the opportunity to always try out the newest gadgets is an extremely appealing idea.

3. Pre-Loaded Content

My wife always complains about my addiction to Apple Store. Every time we go out shopping in a mall, I’ll try to visit the Apple Store. ‘You’ve seem them all so many times and own most of the devices, why would you still want to go there? Don’t you feel boring after some time?’ Not really, because in there, I gotta try the newest pre-load apps on their iPads and iPod Touchs. There are always something new and I don’t have to pay for it.

This applies to leasing also. Leasing service providers can load the most popular games and TV shows and musics on the gadgets, and users not only can enjoy the most up-to-date hardware, they gotta use the software also.  Starbucks already starts to provide free content to customers to add more value, same thing can be done to tablet leasing, only easier.


What do you think of gadget leasing? Will it be the next big thing?









E-Ink Smartphone Could Work


An E-Ink smartphone could work, for 3 Reasons:

1. Long battery life

E-Ink consumes very minimum power.

2. Price

Since video performance is no concern at all, I imagine good pick of chipset and E-Ink screen will actually make it very affordable.

3. Easy to the eyes

Self-explanatory. We all love E-Ink for it.

Combine these 3 treats, I came to a very interesting conclusion:

E-Ink smartphone is perfect for enterprise!

  • It’s cheap so it can be deployed to a wider range of staff.
  • It last longer so good for long business trips.
  • And it can’t be used to play games, watch videos, etc. Reducing distraction and increase productivity

4. Always on, no  locking/unlocking hassle

Drew Wilken pointed out to me that another advantage for E-Ink is that after the pixel is printed, it cost no power at all, which means the device can be always on without much battery drain. So you don’t have to lock your smartphone or turn off the screen to save power, just leave it on and anytime you want to check time, new message or tweets, it will be there. Handy!

Samsung’s Recent Copy of Apple and Their Secret Ingredient For Success

Photo Feb 26, 5 49 21 PM

Another blatant copy from Samsung. They could have come up with millions of different designs for the app, but no, they ‘happened’ to come very close to Apple. Makes you think they have Apple designers working for them maybe?

passbook walletImage Source:  The Verge

Hey come to think of it, I think I cracked Samsung’s secret ingredient for success. They took a page from Google on the Android OS, riding on Google’s huge R&D Android department. Then they took a page from Apple’s industrial design, exploiting the best design talents at Apple. Then they copied both Google and Apple’s ideas on application and services, like Passbook, Siri, etc., getting the best of both worlds. See my point here? No wonder they are so successful, they pretty much copied from the best on every area and put them together under ‘Galaxy’ brand. They are the best ‘other’s innovation integrator‘ on the market.

A note to Apple and Google, stop Samsung from doing it or your designers and engineers are also Samsung’s. Another note to legal system, stop Samsung or US companies will suffer even more, or got their success stolen from Samsung. If innovation and ideas cannot be protected here, then what else are we gonna compete with the likes of Samsung? Cheap labor?

Yahoo! Bans ‘Working from Home’ Not a Bad Thing

marissa-mayer-7882_270x338Yahoo recently announced that ‘Working From Home’ is no longer allowed for its several hundreds employees. Many people are outrageous. I read a lot of angry comments on all the big tech medias. Yet interestingly, when I was browsing Quora, I stumbled upon this question: What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no work from home policy? More interestingly, the top upvoted answer is from a current Yahoo employee, his answer, and I quote here, is:




I have been at Yahoo for four years and lets just say the house needed and still needs a lot of cleaning up and Marissa is doing just that. So I am glad that the change in policy was made.

Many people are misled by the various stories going around. If your child is sick it is ok to work from home for that day and my boss and others are ok with that.

The change primarily affects those who permanently work from home.

If we want to change, compete, and make a come back all hands have to be on deck, in meetings, contributing ideas, involved, etc.

People will use the argument that look at Google and how it allows employees to work from home. My question would be have you seen their P&L? They make boatloads of money.

We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask. If you don’t like it well too bad, the exit door is over there.

I think this answer very much said it all (no wonder it got 450+ upvote). Yes, WFH is a nice to have alternative and could boost creativity and offer some flexibility. But when you are fighting for your own survival, like Yahoo! right now, you need to do whatever it takes. Everyone needs to stick together and focused and work toward the same direction. Working from home, you’ll lose a lot of the peer pressure, the inspiration from others and the positive feedback loop. You’ll be less connected with your team, especially on the emotional level. And emotional support and moral matters A LOT in hard times.

I have to say it seems that good things are happening within the then Internet giant.  Will we see another Apple like ‘Steve Jobs’ style turn around?

Can Tablet Replace Smartphone?


Kevin is quite forward-thinking in predicting a future when tablet replacing smartphone as our main mobile device on all applications, including cellular voice. I agree with most of his points. Just from a product designer point of view, I would like to explore where we are in the process and how well each party is doing right now.

To be the center of our digital life, I believe a real main mobile device needs to have the following treats:

  • Powerful enough to cope to our daily needs
  • When we need them, they need to hit the ground running instantly.
  • When we don’t need them, they can get out-of-the-way with the least burden.

Let’s look at each treat and try to score it on both devices, smartphone and tablet.

1. Powerful Enough to cope to our daily needs. 

Smartphone: ♥♥♥♥

Smartphones have become more and more powerful. It IS a mobile computer now. The only limitation is screen size, and that has been mitigated by great attention on UI/UX designs.

Tablet: ♥♥♥♥♥

Performance wise, a tablet can pretty much do everything the smartphone can do, only faster and easier. The bigger screen size offer more freedom on user interactions and more immersive experience. If smartphones are only good for content consuming, tablet can handle some light weight content creating jobs already.

2. When we need them, they need to hit the ground running instantly. 

Smartphone: ♥♥♥♥♥

For two major use cases, app launching and voice calls, smartphone handles them very well. Usually app launching is quick on most smartphones and tablets and mobile OS now all support ‘instant on’. Unlock your smartphone and hit the app icon, within seconds you’re already on the road. Cellular calls are easy too, user can pick up the call just be pulling the smartphone out and unlock, then place the phone near their ear.

Tablet: ♥♥♥

This is where tablet is still struggling. Yes you can always use headset or Bluetooth, but who wants to wear a headset or Bluetooth all day just in case someone call them? Holding the big tablet near your ear to take the call is borderline ridiculous.

Another more subtle factor is how many hands user will have to use for the device. For smartphone is one hand most of the time, but for tablet it’s both hands. From my personal experience, if I can use one hand, I would prefer to not use two. Anyone shares the same feeling with me?

3. When we don’t need them, they can get out-of-the-way with the least burden. 

Smartphone: ♥♥♥

Simple, putting the smartphone into your pocket will do. It become invisible and you are worry free. There is nearly no cost in carrying them around.

Tablet:  For guys ♥♥     For gals: ♥♥♥♥

This is much less of an issue for purse carrying ladies. 7 inch tablet can easily fit into ladies’ purse and they carry them around all day anyway. For guys, it’s a bit harder since purse is not a necessary accessory for them. Wherever they go, they always have to think about not losing it. The weight might not be a problem for guys though.



Smartphone: 15

Tablet: 10 

It’s very likely that smartphone will still be our main mobile device for a while, until we can find a better way to carry tablet around and picking up incoming calls.


Google’s Chromebook Pixel: The Missing Piece


I’ve been thinking about Pixel still. There’s something off about the entire product concept, but I just can’t figure out what exactly it is. Then it came to me, the hardware is an overkill to the software. 

Pixel’s hardware is great. I would  even say top of the line in the same price category. If you only look at the hardware spec, $1300 isn’t expensive to get the best Retina display, Intel Core i5 CPU, state-of-the-art aluminum body and back-lit keyboard. What makes people furious about this price is not the hardware itself, but what people can really do with this device. What experience can people actually get from the powerful hardware people will be paying dearly for.

The answer is ‘lackluster’ to say the least. There is just no application or service that can make the full use of the display and CPU power. Google claim that the hardware is so powerful you can watching multiple 1080P HD videos at the same time, but in actuality nobody will do that.

If I buy this thing, I’ll never fully exploit its potential, which means the extra premium I paid for will be wasted. This, my friends, is a BIG problem. During the many year’s of PC evolution, hardware is always lagging behind software demand. There are always the new 3D games that will use up the last ounce of processing power. Open multiple documents when working will very easily eat up all your memory. Hardware process power most of time is playing catch up.  People kept paying high-end hardware because they know it will make their 3D gameplay couple of frames faster, or it will cost them less time saving a big Word document.

It’s like 3G network before iPhone first release on 1997. Everyone in the industry was wondering what we can do with this ‘Faster 3G network’? Browsing and sending email doesn’t seem to use a lot of bandwidth. But after iPhone’s release, it very quickly used up all AT&T’s 3G network bandwidth, and they’ve been playing the catch up game till even now. Today, we even start to feel that 4G isn’t fast enough, let along 3G.

In our industry, it’s always the service/software drive the hardware, not the other way around. And the missing piece for Pixel is, they still didn’t find the drive from app or service yet, thus people won’t pay high dollar for their outstanding hardware. A premium hardware for its own sake is not good for anyone.