Question

Do you prefer using the mouse, touchscreens, or keyboard shortcuts?

Early computers were keyboard-only. Then Macintosh and Windows pushed computing to be mouse by default, only to have the iPhone and Android's touchscreen interfaces make buttons seem a thing of the past.

Yet somehow there seems a new détente between keyboards and other input devices, and keyboard shortcuts along with command palettes and search-based interfaces becoming increasingly common.

Which do you prefer?

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Blakejmyer's avatar
10 months ago
Keyboard... but the future is direct manipulation via touch

Keyboard is by far the most efficient way to navigate and control modern digital technology 90% of the time. Super users are keyboard only.

I think a future of touch super users is however very likely. I'd be interested to start to see an analog to keyboard shortcuts in touch interaction design through gestures and tap patterns etc. One easy example is zooming in and out. Pinching is generally faster and you have a wider degree of freedom than per se command plus and command minus.

9 points
forouzani's avatar
@forouzani (replying to @Blakejmyer )
10 months ago

What about voice? I feel like voice is advancing very rapidly both in terms of technology and user adoption. Do you think touch would be more common than voice in the future?

3 points
Blakejmyer's avatar
@Blakejmyer (replying to @forouzani )
10 months ago

Yeah that’s where things get really interesting. There seems to be pros and cons to both. However, the main way we interact today and historically(outside of communication) with our current physical environment is our hands.

I think one main reason today’s voice interface tools have caught on are because we are so busy with our hands. Riding a bicycle, making dinner, holding a baby, normal day to day things enhanced by voice interface.

From the above example I think voice works great as a secondary interaction tool but for humans to feel reality — nothing beats the tactile interaction of using your hands. It’s satisfying, can be specific(binary), and can also be ambiguous(analog) in its direction and input.

I personally love the idea of using my voice to direct and command a little army of ai to do my tasks for me but I think I’ll still like to use my hands to create, shape, and design with analog input or when I want to feel like I have total control.

Both of these will probably be beaten out eventually by direct brain to computer interfaces (e.g Neuralink). But even then, because of our biology, I’m skeptical that brain to computer interfaces will be 100% of the time until we’re able to emulate something analog or more satisfying than the hand.

But that’s just my thoughts — What do you think?

5 points
forouzani's avatar
@forouzani (replying to @Blakejmyer )
10 months ago

Yes, I totally agree. I question weather voice will dominate over touch when it becomes powerful enough.
If you are able to "command a little army of AI" accurately, I'm not sure people would ever want to touch anything. Especially if you modeled it close to speaking to another being - some Star Trek holographic assistant should do the trick :D
I first discovered the power of voice when I watched this presentation a few years ago. The guy basically writes code via audio. Very eye opening.

3 points
Blakejmyer's avatar
@Blakejmyer (replying to @forouzani )
10 months ago

ooo I'll check it out! Thanks @forouzani

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @Blakejmyer )
10 months ago

On voice catching on because of our hands being busy—that definitely makes sense, and applies to being busy in other ways too. I use dictation to txt all the time when walking in town, but would type say on the train when doing nothing else. Coordinating dictation plus walking is fine; typing plus walking is too distracting.

1 point
Blakejmyer's avatar
@Blakejmyer (replying to @Blakejmyer )
10 months ago

Something else I just thought of... browsing information, discovery, or exploration with voice would be a dreadful experience right?? Why is that?

1 point
forouzani's avatar
@forouzani (replying to @Blakejmyer )
10 months ago

I think some of this ties to the fact that we consume information mostly by reading right now. We can skim via headlines, jump paragraphs etc because we have trained our reading skills in such a way.

But if the consumption method were to change (maybe via neuralink or something), I think we would retrain ourselves to skim in other ways - then browsing and discovery wouldn't be so painful.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @forouzani )
10 months ago

That's incredibly interesting to think of new ways to browse. One similar thing already is that people who use screen readers by default listen at a far higher speed than most people could understand, and listening to podcasts at 1.5x+ speed is now getting common. Part of it may be in speeding things up (and jumping via headings may still work—have the software read them first and jump to where you want to go).

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @Blakejmyer )
10 months ago

On browsing via voice ... one wild thing is if you do user testing and watch people interact with sites, a lot of people triple-click paragraphs to highlight them as they're reading (something I do at times without really thinking about it). It's like we're offloading the cognitive load of remembering our place on the site to our fingers, similar to keeping your place in a book. Voice doesn't have a sense of place, so perhaps that's the problem.

Though people using screen readers do navigate fully with voice, and I at times use Instapaper's voice option to listen to articles while driving, and that works fine.

1 point
NBNite's avatar
@NBNite (replying to @maguay )
10 months ago

Just catching up on this thread - super interesting thoughts all around.
@Blakejmyer - I'm totally with you. There's just something about using your hands to navigate/ that gives you a feeling of control that you don't get with voice. But I do believe it's only a matter of time until we get there.

@ forouzani - I just watched that video.. fascinating. I imagine that developers are not all ready to give up their keybards though :)

@maguay - funny that you mention listening speed. I recently downloaded a podcast through Apple's native Podcast app and was frustrated that they only have .5 intervals. I had gotten used to Audible and Youtube's 1.75x!

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @NBNite )
10 months ago

Oh yeah speeding up voice definitely makes it much easier to listen to podcasts and such! People who rely on screen readers all the time are amazing as they can understand even when the audio is at far faster speeds.

2 points
mikaelvinding's avatar
@mikaelvinding (replying to @forouzani )
8 months ago

Voice has a long way to go to be really useful. It also clunky and slow, so you need to move a lot of the inteligence into the system I think.
As an example you couldnt really shop fast with voice but if the system was smart enough to execute 'buy motor oil' and automatically know your car, what deals are typical on motoroil, factor in shipping and all that. Right now you take gamble on price and so on - of course super simplified example and at that point the car would do it by itself (and aboslute anyway due to electric)..

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @mikaelvinding )
8 months ago

Great point—voice assistants won't truly feel "smart" until they actually know more stuff about us and can use that data to speed things up.

1 point
MorganJLopes's avatar
10 months ago
The Keyboard

Over the years, I have assisted in the coaching and training of many software engineers and designers. Consistently, the most effective students where those who had a deep knowledge of keyboard shortcuts. The efficiency of navigating a computer without shifting hand position compounds over time.

Not only does the mouse require greater precision and increased attention, there is no baseline for its starting position. Step one is always "orient yourself to where the mouse exists on the screen". By contrast, the keyboard is fixed and access to shortcut is immediate.

Among the list of the most common/helpful shortcuts for Mac:
• command + tab: bounce between recent applications
• command + spacebar: open spotlight (computer search)
• command + q: close applications
• command + w: close windows (in browser, finder, and other tabbed interfaces)

8 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @MorganJLopes )
10 months ago

Very neat to hear from a coaching perspective. How long do you tend to find it takes people to fully learn a program's keyboard shortcuts enough to be more efficient? And do you see keyboard shortcut use being more or less prevent in younger, mobile-first users?

1 point
forouzani's avatar
10 months ago
As a VIM user, it is definitely the...

Keyboard.

But that is just in pure efficiency. It terms of user friendliness and learning curve, the mouse and GUIs in general, are definitely better.

Nothing proves this better than forcing someone who has never use VIM to use it for the first time.

6 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @forouzani )
10 months ago

Every time I use VI, I can open and save ok but need to Google "VI commands" to do anything else. Of course that's something that frequent use would solve!

1 point
dharmesh's avatar
10 months ago
I'm a keyboard guy, because it's way *faster*

I understand the appeal of touch/click interfaces. They're usually more intuitive and approachable.

But, once you know what you're doing, the keyboard is much faster for things you do all the time. Case in point: Superhuman for email.

5 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @dharmesh )
10 months ago

The genius of Superhuman (and other command palettes) is that you don't even have to remember keyboard shortcuts to get their speed advantage. It's things like that which are making keyboard shortcuts increasingly popular imo.

1 point
AndrewPenry's avatar
10 months ago
Mostly, the keyboard

You can't beat the speed of not moving your hands to another device or to touch the screen. However, on poorly designed software or web forms that don't have a proper tabbing order, you might need a click or two. I use a trackball instead of a mouse, and this can make adding that click almost as fast as using the keyboard, because you can click the button without fear of accidentally bumping the cursor.

4 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @AndrewPenry )
10 months ago

Oh wow, I had never figured out the appeal of trackballs until you said that about clicking without moving the cursor.

I use a touchpad by default (external one at the desk), and you basically always move the cursor when you need to bring the mouse back to life which come to think of it may be the main downside of trackpads.

1 point
CompanyGardener's avatar
10 months ago
Trackpad + Keyboard

Mouse if I'm gaming. Macvim for code, with enough trackpad usage to make vim fanatics freak.

I always map caps lock to control.

3 points
ianthiel's avatar
10 months ago
The Keyboard

The mouse is for "last mile" transit.

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @ianthiel )
10 months ago

Ha that's a great way to put it!

1 point
ahubbs's avatar
10 months ago
Definitely a keyboard.

A mouse is okay for browsing the web, but for getting working done I prefer a keyboard and easy to remember shortcuts. I love what Superhuman is doing with their shortcuts.

2 points
avetisk's avatar
8 months ago

Few years ago, lots of UX designers thought that keywords would become useless. But actually more and more people rely on the keyboard. Why? Because it’s damn faster. You just can’t imagine how much faster it is to type than moving a mouse or even using touch.

Of course there are exceptions like moving or placing elements. But generally for everything else the keyboard wins.

One particular thing that I like is how it solves the eye tracking issue in most cases. When you use touch or mouse, you need to visually guide your action. But for the keyboard, if you type without looking at it, you just won’t have to waste that effort and time.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @avetisk )
8 months ago

Great point on eye tracking; you need to make sure your cursor's in the right text field, otherwise you can look away. Which ... amazingly even transfers over to typing on touchscreens to a degree, but at a far lower accuracy. Same for keyboard shortcuts since they're typically universal and don't require you hunting the function down in a menu.

This is why adding a keyboard to an iPad (or to a phone—feels weird at first, but works in a pinch) makes it so much more productive. Now the funny thing is that Apple's also added mouse support; will be interesting to see how that changes its perception.

2 points
avetisk's avatar
@avetisk (replying to @maguay )
8 months ago

Actually I think touch screen are only good for games and art.

This is just my personal experience and I don’t have any data to back it.

But there is a simple logic to that: when you use touch screen you are using something way too big (a finger) which not as precise as a point, and also you’re hiding a big part of the screen.

So in the end: touch < mouse < keyboard

But again, there is a good context and a bad one for each.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @avetisk )
8 months ago

I enjoy writing on an iPad for a focused writing experience, with a writing app like iA Writer or Ulysses full-screen ... and with an external bluetooth keyboard. So I guess the size and a few features (limitations?) of the platform are what I'm using there more than anything touch.

2 points
avetisk's avatar
@avetisk (replying to @maguay )
8 months ago

Haha! It’s funny because I have the same “issue”: I get so much more comfortable and inspired on a small screen than a big one.

I used to write with vim on an old small ThinkPad with Linux that I got just for that. The vintage aura and the extra limitation (it couldn’t even properly run a old version of Ubuntu’s desktop environment) would help me a lot to write.

I guess maybe we could ask Ulysses (which I personally prefer to iA writer) to make a small screen view in full screen mode :)

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @avetisk )
8 months ago

If only the Kindle Paperwhite supported bluetooth keyboards and had a basic text editor...

2 points
avetisk's avatar
@avetisk (replying to @maguay )
8 months ago

This would be a dream come true.

Or maybe we could start doing something: https://www.paperd.ink/ :)

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @avetisk )
8 months ago

There's also the Remarkable eInk tablet though it doesn't support bluetooth keyboards either, crazily. Also ... the Kindle's best feature may be its price; hard to justify an iPad-level price for a limited eInk device.

1 point
maguay's avatar
10 months ago
Keyboard ... plus trackpad shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts definitely are the most productive option once you've learned them. Many new apps—Sublime Text, Superhuman, and more—including command palettes to search through commands, as do all Mac programs from the Help menu where you can search through everything in the app's menus, as a nice in-between if you can't remember the shortcut.

But then, some things still need a mouse, for instance, taking a screenshot of a portion of your screen. Normally that means pressing a keyboard shortcut, then using the mouse/trackpad to select the portion of the screen to capture. I use BetterTouchTool to add a shortcut to the top right of my trackpad so I can press there, then just drag my finger to capture the shortcut in one go. Similarly, Shortcuts on iOS lets you run whole workflows with a button tap, almost the touch equivalent to keyboard shortcuts.

Then there are the weird things like shake-to-undo on iOS. Feels like there's a lot of unexplored territory in making modern devices more productive and rethinking what keyboard shortcuts could be without keyboards.

1 point
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