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Do you prefer physical buttons over a touchscreen?

Touchscreen

As the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle are sent to the great Apple Store in the sky, physical buttons are now a thing of the past for the tech giant. But is touchscreen really better?

It’s almost impossible to imagine using a smartphone with an old-fashioned numeric keypad, and for good reason. With all the different apps and screens that our phones process nowadays, a static layout simply wouldn’t work – there’s too much going on.

Touchscreens are more intuitive and, for the most part, quicker. As the technology gets cheaper and our day-to-day lives grow more and more technologically advanced, they’re also working their way onto more devices. Fridges, watches and in-car entertainment systems now all proudly sport touchscreens when physical buttons have happily resided for decades.

Buttons for the better?

Is it always for the best, though? You probably wouldn’t want a touchscreen keyboard, nor would you want a touchscreen TV remote. Sometimes tactile feedback and muscle memory make using a product far easier than the versatility of a touchscreen ever could – I’d argue that the iPod also falls under that category.

Thirteen years on, I still happily use my fourth generation iPod Classic as my day-to-day MP3 player. I have an iPhone with a larger storage capacity, but I find it’s simply not as quick or intuitive to browse as the iPod is. For me, the Click Wheel, with its audio cues and physical buttons, is a better input method for an MP3 player than a touchscreen – even one made by the same company.

Do you prefer physical buttons or touchscreens on your gadgets?

A bit of both (46%, 262 Votes)

Buttons (45%, 257 Votes)

Touchscreen (10%, 56 Votes)

Total Voters: 575

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Is the end nigh?

The iPods Shuffle and Nano may never have been the best MP3 Apple had to offer, but with their long-awaited deaths, we’re witnessing the end of an era.

People may not always agree with it, but when Apple makes a bold design move it isn’t usually long until other companies follow suit. The Sony Walkman already has a touchscreen variant, in addition to its hard-buttoned predecessors – could they soon be on their way out, too?

If you feel the same then you needn’t lose hope just yet. If you own an older iPod model then they’ll still work for the foreseeable future, and if you don’t then you can always head to eBay to pick one up. There are hundreds of them available if you aren’t too picky about which model or colour you want, some are even brand new.

Do you think buttons will always have a place in the tech world, or are they a relic of the past because touchscreens are better?

Comments
Member

Buttons are mechanical and – as with anything mechanical – can fail prematurely. But I suspect we prefer some feedback when activating a function, which is one reason some Apple users have been pressing Apple to introduce Haptic feedback for years.

I can live with touch screens very easily for most things, but for extended periods of writing I use a Tactile Pro mechanical keyboard. Not cheap, but clunky and audible and I like the feedback when I thump a key.

Member

not now

Member

I clicked buttons because I’d far sooner use a system with a keyboard and a mouse (or failing that a trackpad) to something a like a pure tablet or fone.

When I briefly owned a tablet, the first accessory I bought was a keyboard for it. (The only tablet that I now have is a “ruined” one, where the screen glass (and digitiser) are broken “beyond economic repair”, but it is still usable if I plug in a keyboard and mouse.)

I do use a cheap fone – it is acceptable because I don’t need to do loads of typing on it and because I don’t want to pay for a fone that costs as much as a laptop.

Member

I have an ancient phone with a physical keyboard, since my fingers are too clumsy to use the one provided on screen. Other things, like sending messages and moving screens, are bigger actions which I can manage. I have never owned a tablet and don’t know what use I’d make of it. My lap tops are all keyboard and mouse operated. The screen is some distance from me as I type this on a plug in keyboard, so using the lap top as a touch screen would be difficult. I do like the keyboard mouse approach, since this is what I’ve always used and the technique of poking and swiping a screen to make things happen doesn’t appeal. I can do everything remotely and there are no finger mark or nail scratches to worry about. For typing documents, an on screen keyboard would be dreadful and I couldn’t cope with it. I also hate predictive text with a passion. I’ve seen many people texting merrily from their phones, using two thumbs. I can’t be bothered to learn this. When my phone eventually dies, I shall have a prodder to poke the screen and type that way. I suppose this is called getting old, but I can make my computers and phone do what I want them to do without hassle and so am content with what I’ve got.

Member

I’m with you on typing Vynor.

I also cannot type with 2 thumbs. I consider my fingers to be relatively small but I type all manner of rubbish with them on a phone screen and the mind of predictive text is rather different to my mind.

A couple of days ago I sent a text and the sentence had the word ‘fix’ in it. On reading back, it was the only word in capital letters, so I went back and retyped it. It refused to turn into small letters, so in the end I had to send the text as was.

A rubber on the end of pencil works quite well as a prodder though.

Member

In a similar state to you, Vynor – plus I can’t read what’s on my iPhone’s screen without a magnifying glass! Hence, I use an old desktop as my mainstay, an old Nokia 3330 as my mobile and the iPhone only as a ‘going away’ tablet. I also have a Tesco Hudl 2 – shame they’ve been discontinued – Tesco’s current offering is nothing like as good. However, the Hudl has Bluetooth (as do most tablets), so a cheap Bluetooth keyboard from Lidl gets round most of the typing problems – plus many keyboard shortcuts like CNTL-C for cut and CNTL-V for paste work as on a PC. Can’t deny that the tablet is always ready and waiting (unless its battery is flat!), so it’s great for instant answers from Google (no need for encyclopaedias or printed train timetables any more), whereas the desktop takes several minutes to wake up. But for anything serious, like writing letters or, in my case, maintaining websites, a touch-screen just isn’t up to the job, and never will be.

alfa – I’m surprised the rubber on the end of a pencil works on touchscreens. You can get dedicated prodders from many Poundshops, which are short lengths of aluminium tubing with a squidgy rubber end that emulates a finger. Poundland usually has two sizes in a pack for a quid, the smaller of which is telescopic and has a dummy plug on a lanyard to put in the headphone socket for safe stowage. Can’t use that with an iPhone 7, though… I wouldn’t be able to use my (earlier) iPhone without it. These double-jointed kids using their thumbs for texting are asking for RSI problems….

Member

I prefer not to an early adopter of new technology. My suggestion is to try products belonging to friends and family, who are often happy to point out good and bad points that might not otherwise be obvious.

The success of smartphones and tablets is evidence that many of us are happy with touchscreens. Add a keyboard and the screen area has to become smaller or the device larger. BlackBerry still produces phones with a small keyboard but I was not surprised when touchscreen models became available.

For me the trackpad on a MacBook Pro is superb, though having turned off some of the features for novices I can see that it does take a bit of getting used to. I don’t recall having used a mouse on an Apple laptop, though I sometimes use one on the desktop for graphics work.

I don’t think the computer keyboard is likely to disappear because it’s not very easy to input pages of text on a touch screen, though I’m amazed how well some do on their tablets.

Member

Here is video parodying Apple design. It dates from 2009, but I still enjoy it: http://www.theonion.com/video/apple-introduces-revolutionary-new-laptop-with-no–14299