Build A Better Mousetrap

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You can see the future of Marketing by standing in line at the grocery store.

At least I did today. While waiting to buy some yogurt and bananas, I watched a toddler point, push, prod and try to manipulate the screen where your items are displayed to you as they’re swiped across the bar code reader. While smudging the screen, the child was saying, "iPhoneiPad!" The mother – looking more than a little embarrassed – said, "she thinks it’s her Dad’s iPad… kids today."

Kids today. Adults tomorrow.

They’re not going to use a mouse. They’re probably not going to use a keyboard the way we use one. They’re probably going to have minimal text-based like communication (the way we have). I used to laugh at the line that a young person thinks that a screen without a mouse is broken. Imagine, we’re at that exact moment in time when a young person who can’t interact with a screen by touching it will assume that the screen is broken.

This is a big, big deal.

For the most part, we humans have a hard time seeing the big changes and how this affects the rest of humanity going forward. While I won’t point to a specific device (iPhone or iPad), it’s safe to say that this will become the standard going forward. Look no further than how Apple is positioning the trackpad on the new MacBook Air. They’re talking about it as if it’s like touching a screen instead of comparing it to a mouse.

These are big, big changes. Can you feel them? A two-year-old can. 


  1. This reminds me of a scene in Star Trek 7 (or which ever number). It was the one where the Enterprise crew goes back in time to save some humpback whales. Scotty is in a glass factory trying to get materials for a big tank when he is put in front of an old computer. He doesn’t touch anything and just says “Hello, computer.” McCoy hands him the mouse, at which point Scotty smiles, says “Oh” and proceeds to hold it up to his mouth and say again, “Hello, computer.”
    We may think we’ve reached really advanced technology, but this sci-fi scene is not beyond us. Touch screens may be the future for the next few years, but is the next step voice? Or even augmented reality screens?

  2. The really interesting thing about this to me is the implications that this has for marketing, advertising, etc offline. The more that children learn that entertainment & engagement comes from a screen, the less they learn to be entertained & engaged by the real world. Will that mean that it will be easier to engage people in the future in the real world IF you can grab their attention? I don’t know. Maybe, it will be more difficult, but these kids will have purchasing power in not too long, so we better start figuring this out.

  3. Yes, Mitch, I can feel them. It’s strange: I’m only 25, but there’s a huge cultural/sociological gap between myself and that toddler. The same is true of myself and current highschoolers. They haven’t seen a world without cell phones, the Internet or HD anything. I have, and that’s a big chasm.

  4. I remember an article (whose link I sadly cannot remember) where the author theorized Apple was in fact educating us at the use of keyboard-less peripherals with the introduction of iPhone and iPad after. While we’re not yet at that, and despite Apple clearly stated they have no intention for now to abandon the horizontal-multitouch paradigm for laptops (everyone expected a touch-enabled Macbook Air, let’s be honest), today’s kids are gonna be spoiled in this regard.
    I see it even now, when my CCO’s kid plays with his iPad, no training, no previous experience, he can manage it no problem.
    Kudos to Apple to get truly genius Human Interface Designers, if you think about that, everyone else followed like mindless sheep (Android in primis).

  5. Mitch,
    I’m with you on this. Back in 2002 I was working on an interactive design installation for a sports stadium. For the project, we brought in a Dr. from M.I.T. (can’t remember his name) who was working on a real-world version of the “floating” interface that Tom Cruise used in the movie Minority Report. Back then he told us that would be a reality in our lifetime.
    40 years from now, People will be watching a show like Mad Men that is set in today’s advertising world, and they’ll be smiling and saying “remember that” when they see the characters working on computers with a mouse and keyboard. 🙂

  6. I’m new to your blog, so I’m not sure if you’ve talked about this (and apologies if you have) but I’d love your thoughts on the possible obsolescence of the screen as a discrete feature. That is to say, given that touch screens are being integrated into every product and its mother (and those screens are becoming more seamlessly integrated or “invisible” every day) do you think we’ll even be talking about screens (touch or otherwise) as a feature in 10 or 20 or 30 years? Or will screens become MORE distinct? I keep thinking that as interactivity and natural interaction melt into products, we’ll be talking about interfaces (of course), but the “screen” itself will have disappeared as a topic of conversation, because it will no longer be defined as something separate from the object and its functionality. Does that make sense?
    Not sure if that makes any sense, as I’m pretty jetlagged, but if you can make sense of that, I’d love to hear (1) whether you think screens will become so well integrated that we don’t think of them as screens and (2) how you think that will affect the way that customer relationships are formed (after all, think how much our interactions would change if we encountered a marketing message on the refridgerator as opposed to the dashboard of our car etc)

  7. So, when they’re touching a screen (or online), it’s not the real world? When you talk on the phone, it’s not the real world? I think that’s the line that is beginning to blur the most. It’s all the real world. The connected real world.

  8. When buttons are an integrated part of the screen, I see what you’re saying and I do see a day (probably closer than most of us think), where all objects will be built around “touch” and what you are touching is what we consider a screen today.
    Great observation!
    It’s also going to bring with it a design revolution – because just imagine what you will be able to do!

  9. Children learn and adapt to their environments at twice the rate of an adult because they have no fear of making mistakes. It’s a damn shame that age seems to bring on this aura of fear leading to a resistant to change. Some of the most innovative people in the world never grow up. Steve Jobs reminds me of Tom Hanks in the movie Big. His ability to see beyond the obvious is driven by an uncluttered manner of thinking tested by the KISS principle. Jobs’ lacks the fear of change and as a result has taken on some of the most challenging areas of technology creating solutions that are simple. Why? Because he understands that everyone loves simple. He puts simple in every detail right down to how Apple products are package. You know he’s still a kid at mind because it’s always the “adult” who makes things complicated. My biggest “fear” is what will happen to Apple innovation when that kid isn’t around anymore?

  10. My “just turned 3 year old” is a wiz at the iPhone…technology with an awesome UI is just so intuitive for them.
    Understanding that they can’t throw it on the floor when they’re done with it…that’s a “whole nuther story” (I’m in Texas…nuther is a word here).
    Thanks, Mitch…I always look forward to your posts!

  11. I often say that we have the collective patience of a three year old but perhaps I should add that the wonderment of said child should be embraced.
    We want it now but we often lack the courage to walk into that big scary direction of change because we don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like. But change often sounds good on a political sign or in an annual report.
    We need to be more childlike, not childish.

  12. My first boss refused to upgrade from Word Perfect 5.1 because it meant he’d have to use a mouse. My 4-year-old daughter tries to manipulate the screen of our iMac when I’m on the computer with her. Touch screen televisions have to be coming – full circle from the remote and getting back up off the couch to change a channel, only this time it will be to interact with the program.
    No question that touch screens have changed things. It makes total sense; why wouldn’t you manipulate the thing you are looking at, unless you had that instinct trained out of you.
    Check this video of touch screens in restaurants in the US, forcing adults to adapt:

  13. Good stuff Mitch.
    Outside of the flying cars – the “future” seems to be in high gear. Especially over the last 4-5 months. Have you noticed?
    Star Was, the Jetsons – kid stuff.
    I seem to be amazed everyday, lately, at the new technology opportunities. Even more fun is thinking about how we can use this stuff in marketing and sharing client stories.

  14. I was in the Apple store when they brought out the new line of MacBook Air. All I could think to myself is, “wow, technology is moving fast!” Look at how quickly some of these companies are producing mind-blowing technology. It’s staggering.

  15. This may partially be a matter of semantics. The phone and screen exist within the real world, yes, but you have to admit that there is a fundamental difference between, for example, pushing a race car around a track on a phone and pushing a race car around a track that actually sits in front of you.
    I agree there is a blurring of the line though. While I can reach out and touch, smell, or do whatever else to a person I’m talking to when they are actually in my presence, I can still sense many things about them through a video chat. That being said, there remains a certain lack of realness in that situation if you ask me.

  16. I am not that worried about the supposed wedge between virtual and real world engagement. All things said and done – we are in the real world. All things said and done, the virtual world and all that can be touched with it, is going to be in that toddler’s pocket one day. The mobile web, puts the screen in ones pocket, to be pulled out FOR engagement with the real world. It is where connection is headed, bringing BILLIONS, rich and poor, into our interconnected consciousness.
    What I worry about is the ‘Midas Touch’ of the future. That we believe anything we ‘touch’ online to be True. And propagate that ‘gold’ without due diligence, care or value added personal thought.
    The real world and whats real will matter more and more to people as they connect through touch.

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