The computer mouse was never our friend. In fact, when the mouse was brand new, it was mocked that it had no relevance in the Enterprise. In a Building Windows 8 blog post focused on user experience, Jensen Harris quoted reporter George Vinall from PC Week in the April 24, 1984 issue that “mice are nice ideas, but of dubious value for business users.” It may have taken us some time to get used to the mouse and how it worked, but then we got comfortable. And computer designers started building applications around the graphical user interface. The proliferation of Windows in the work place and eventually at home trained us well. And we don’t like change.
But then recently, we started to get more exposure to touch with the iPhone, the iPad, and the explosion of smart phones and touch enabled mobile and tablet devices. And a funny thing is happening. Whereas our work computers introduced us to Windows and the point and click world, our mobile lifestyles demand touch and gesture—and we’re finding the applications at work don’t adapt well and we are stuck between these two worlds of mouse and touch (check out Avanade’s research on the Consumerization of IT).
There are many proclamations being made that the mouse is dead. Look at Microsoft’s latest announcement of the Surface tablet and its recent acquisition of Perceptive Pixel. What’s interesting though is that people think Windows 8 is killing the mouse as well. I disagree. While of course there’s the touch enabled metro tiles, Windows 8 Pro versions will let you have both experiences—the on the go tablet, touch, gesture, and the come to work, stick it in a docking station, point and click environment. And it needs to be that way because the IT applications we’ve built to support the work we do are built around the graphical user interface, requiring the mouse as a primary input.
And it’s frustrating. So we bring our devices to work and enjoy the ease of using email on a smart phone, but cringe when we have to access the custom built IT applications. What’s an IT organization supposed to do? Re-write the apps for touch? Figure out how to support multiple devices? Do I build pure mobile applications or native? It’s not an easy answer, but it’s conversation that is needed and the timing is right. If you don’t have your design team at the table when you’re planning applications, do it. Design can no longer be an afterthought. You need to focus on who is the end user and how will they interact with the application. For power users of a CRM system, it’s going to need to continue to be point and click for the foreseeable future because of the complex data manipulation and searching required. But for a sales person on the go, in the factory, or working with a customer in the store, accessing that same CRM system thru a mobile device may be the best use of design dollars. So it comes down to choice. Start design early in the process. You don’t necessarily need more budget, but you need to be choosy on where you put those design dollars so you get the greatest ROI and experiences for your end users.
The mouse will eventually die. It will die first in the Consumer space and probably sooner than we think. For Enterprises, the mouse is going to be around for a while. And over the next few years, IT will start enhancing their applications to include touch and easier access via mobile devices. So if you’re responsible for building or enhancing existing applications, you don’t need to kill the mouse immediately, but you must consider it, as your end users are going to demand it.