Maybe this outburst wouldn’t be necessary if Matt Jefferies had had a little more cash to spare. But the budget of the first “Star Trek” episodes in the 1960s was limited. So the production designer Jefferies saved on the design of the Enterprise. While the cockpits of real spaceships at the time were full of levers and buttons, Captain Kirk controls by tapping and swiping: The Enterprise is dominated by touch screens.
Jefferies would have liked to buy real switching instruments at the time, said Michael Okuda, the artistic director of the later “Star Trek” films, the portal Ars Technica: “If he had had the money to buy these things, the Enterprise would have looked very different.” But smooth, black surfaces were unbeatably cheap.
The rest is technological history: touchscreens have conquered the world, since the iPad and iPhone there is hardly a product without a touch-sensitive display. Apple designers wouldn’t be the first developers to take inspiration from science fiction movies. Perhaps omnipresent swipe screens simply embody the natural course of technological evolution, and “Star Trek” is innocent. One thing is certain: everyday touchscreen use is extremely annoying.
Anyone who complains about technology quickly comes across as a grumpy cultural pessimist. Far from it: I like touchscreens. It wipes easily on phones and tablets. But not everything that looks chic and modern makes life easier for users.
The most obvious misunderstanding is in the kitchen. Flat surfaces may fit perfectly into the minimalist designer loft. But if you don’t just use your kitchen island to serve cocktails, you’re bound to get your hands dirty. Water and oil are needed for cooking, in the kitchen things are splashing and bubbling. When are touchscreens particularly difficult to use? When fingers are damp and greasy.
After seven taps, the stove is set. Or not.
Most designers don’t seem to care. Almost no manufacturer offers modern induction hobs with buttons. Of course, the food also gets warm with a touchscreen, but it’s not fun. Switch from searing to gentle stewing: tap seven times. The pasta water is boiling over: beep beep beep, error E 13. Remove all pots and pans from the stove, wipe, wait, let’s continue. For real? No, first dry your hands and the stovetop, otherwise the thing can no longer be switched on.
Hobs, ovens, microwaves, kettles and even toasters, customers should tap and swipe everywhere instead of pressing and turning. This is not only annoying because the supposedly innovative technology quickly fails in the heat of the moment. It is also incomprehensible, because their analogue predecessor has proven itself for centuries.
Rotary knobs consume no power and almost never fail. With a bold movement of the wrist, the entire performance spectrum can be exploited in fractions of a second. Greasy fingers aren’t a problem, and you don’t even have to take your eyes off the cooking pot: Like all buttons, levers and switches, the rotary controller acknowledges the input with a rich haptic feedback that any touchscreen developer would be jealous of.
Unfortunately, buttons cannot be marketed as a technological revolution, they are threatened with extinction. As a child I had a clock radio that I could operate blind and in the dark. 20 years later there is a wifi speaker next to my bed that can do a lot more and sounds better. But all functions are triggered by swiping gestures on the smooth surface. That’s why I often wish for the clock radio back, because to switch off the music I have to turn on the light, I can’t feel anything.