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The End Of Buttons: The New Gesture-Control Era

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The End Of Buttons: The New Gesture-Control Era

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The End Of Buttons: The New Gesture-Control Era

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/213469564/213541578" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

CORNISH: These days, there's not much good news for BlackBerry, the company that revolutionized the smartphone market in the early 2000s. It's now up for sale after years of decline. But as the BlackBerry phone goes out of use, we're losing something else, a familiar interaction between you and your machines.

NPR's Elise Hu joins us now to talk about the shift. And, Elise, really, what's the big deal? I mean, I feel bad for the company, but what's going away if BlackBerry folds?

ELISE HU, BYLINE: You may not be thinking about it, but it's pressing buttons. The mini-keyboard is one of the things that made BlackBerry so attractive to millions of users when it first came out. And then when the iPhone came out in 2007, it sort of marked the beginning of the end for the button.

Tablets today, they use touch screens. We also see the shift with the touch-screen-powered Windows 8, which is the new Microsoft operating system. You see fewer buttons in cars today; gaming consoles, like the Xbox Kinect, that uses gesture control. And we've talked a lot about Google Glass. That computing device that people wear on their faces, that is largely voice-controlled.

CORNISH: So has touch already kind of won the race to replace buttons, or is there other technology out there that could be on the way?

HU: There are more technologies on the way. Gestures, motions like scrolling, swiping and pinching, these things you're going to be able to do in the air; they're becoming the main form of user interaction in terms of the direction we're going forward. But voice and facial commands are starting to follow.

CORNISH: Here's where I sound old-fashioned. I miss pressing buttons, right? I mean, we used to call it the CrackBerry for a reason.

(LAUGHTER)

HU: And that is one of the reasons we have BlackBerry holdouts. Our habits don't change that easily. And our infatuation with buttons has been around for more than a century. I mean, if you think about it, it was buttons that first replaced switches on the earliest computers and buttons that replaced the dial on telephones. We're still a long way from a completely buttonless era.

CORNISH: You know, Elise, in a way, it feels like something old is new again. I mean, this gesture technology takes me back to The Clapper, those cheesy commercials from the '80s, right?

HU: That was one of the original gesture-controlled devices, actually. And yeah, looking back, it was at least a decade or two ahead of its time.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Elise Hu. Thank you so much.

HU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Clap on. Clap off. Clap on, clap off. The Clapper.

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