There’s a more subtle technical problem too. For example, a lot of Web applications were written with a certain sequence of mouse actions in mind. An application might be coded so that it must see a mouse hovering over a button before that mouse is able to click on it. In this case, it’s not simply that the mouse-over action doesn’t work as expected–it’s that the site actually can’t register a click without it, meaning that the application breaks when used on a touch device.
Designers can help avoid these problems by building websites to adapt to different interaction situations. Bederson recently worked on adapting the website of the International Children’s Digital Library for viewing on the iPad. The designers aimed to make the site flexible enough to deal with a variety of languages, nonliterate users, and kids. As a result, the elements turned out to be flexible enough to adapt easily to touch. Bederson says the designers only needed to fix one bug in order to adapt the site to the iPad.
In general, however, redesigning outdated websites “is going to be huge,” says Jared Spool, founding principal of User Interface Engineering, a consulting firm based in North Andover, MA. But Spool believes the coming changes will be largely positive. “To me, the little interaction problems of how to react when a user touches something will work themselves out pretty fast,” he says. What’s more interesting, he believes, are the emerging possibilities for interaction based not only on touch but on motion sensing and location information. For example, Spool points to the Star Walk application for the iPad, which uses this sort of information to show users a labeled image of the night sky matched to the spot where they are currently standing. That kind of interaction simply wasn’t possible before, he says.
Spool also looks forward to user interfaces made possible by greater connectivity between devices, such as interfaces designed for a group of iPads working in concert. “I think the next year is going to bring out amazing creativity as people start to play with this interaction palette that’s far richer than what you had before,” he says.