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Touch me not

Melissa Chua | Dec. 3, 2008
When the screen says nay to your insistent tapping

I love the idea of self-service systems. Dont get me wrong. Im totally against the idea of technology taking over all aspects of our lives such that human-to-human interaction is considered a rarity, but sometimes waiting in line at the bank, cinema or supermarket grates on my nerves, especially when Im pressed for time or lacking my MP3 player.

Enter the self-service booths. The automated teller machines whose invention meant lines at banks would supposedly be shortened. The automated ticketing booth at the cinema, which meant I could simply select my show, pay and leave with tickets in hand.

Never mind that sometimes, the self-service kiosks took me longer than the conventional way to get my errand done; Ive always found the process of navigating through a new user interface fun. That is, so long as it responds as it should.

My gripe of late is that many self-service booths do not seem to be responding as they should. Im talking about touch screen LCD displays; hailed by many as a user-friendly bit of technology.

The idea of touch screen displays is decent enough, in a world where many vendors seek to improve the user experience. Simply tap on your option. But what happens when the tap doesnt register?

I had to abandon two different ATMs the past week, mid-transaction, because the lower left corners of each screen just did not seem to register my touch. Frustration wouldnt begin to describe how I felt, as the line of people behind me grew in length. I ended up making a physical trip to the bank for a simple PIN change.

A few days back, I scanned an item twice by mistake while using the self-checkout kiosk at the supermarket, and, tap as I might, the delete and back options never responded. Neither could I clear the screen. The only option that registered was something along the lines of call for help. This option resulted in a bright green siren screaming for a staff member to come to my aid. I ended up paying for my purchases via the good ol cashier. Thank goodness the supermarket was relatively empty.

Now, these negative experiences have far from put me off touch screens. Im optimistic the situation will improve. The availability of physical backup buttons, should the touch screen malfunction, would make a substantial difference. Users neednt abandon their transaction midway and be left with a bad experience of having wasted time. I notice certain touch screen ATMs have been equipped with such buttons, and some havent. Perhaps this will change.

Regarding the second scenario, I was informed by supermarket tech staff that the problem was not with a faulty touch screen but with buggy software, as the delete and back options had been ghosted out on screen.  Im not sure if backup buttons would have helped in this case, but if they did, then it sure beats having to call for human help.


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