RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Laura Sydell reports.
LAURA SYDELL: We're used to pushing buttons when we make a phone call, but Dr. Jacob Nielsen(ph) thinks we've been suffering needlessly.
JACOB NIELSEN: Push buttons, you know, a touched-tone keypad is a bad, horrible user interface.
SYDELL: Nielsen is an expert on how to make consumer technologies more user friendly. He used to work at Bell Labs, where he says many designers and engineers tried to convince the phone company to experiment with touch screens.
NIELSEN: I can assure you that there are designers in the back room, back in the other handset, or mobile manufacturers, who have similar, probably actually better ideas and designs that they have tried out, but they have never been able to be able to get the phone companies to do them.
SYDELL: Nielsen thinks it took Apple CEO Steve Jobs, known for his iron will and vision, to finally make a change. When Jobs introduced the IPhone at Mac World last January, he poked fun at the other multitasking so-called smart phones.
STEVE JOBS: The problem with them, it's this stuff right here. They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not.
SYDELL: The keyboard will not be there on the IPhone unless you want it. You can press an icon on the three-and-a-half inch glass screen and call up the keyboard image and touched the graphic numbers with your finger. You can glide your hand across the front and move a list of contacts or songs from the music player up and down. And to dial up a friend, just put your finger on their name.
JOBS: There's a phone number in blue. I can just touch it, and boom, I'm going to call this place. All right? I don't really want to call them so I'm going to end the call here.
SYDELL: Jobs makes it look simple. But outside of the company, no one knows if the phone will behave the way it did in the demo. Not many people outside of Apple have gotten their hands on one, and if they did, their hands might not be the right size, says Roger Kay, president of the research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates.
ROGER KAY: If you have to squeeze your fat fingers under this fairly small glass surface and hope to hit the right key, which is just there with all these other keys, that could be quite challenging.
SYDELL: And make sure those fingers aren't greasy, says Gartner analyst Michael McGuire.
MICHAEL MCGUIRE: A supply of napkins is going to be required, you know, especially, again, because people carry these things around all the time. They're at lunch, they're at dinner, they're with them all the time.
SYDELL: But the day for touch screen technology may be here. Microsoft is promising a product on the market called The Surface. It's a coffee table-sized computer for restaurants that lets people make food orders and pay bills by putting their fingers on the screen. Other cell-phone makers are already experimenting with touch screens, says technology expert Jakob Nielsen.
JAKOB NIELSEN: We've had that push button style for too long and it's just really time for it to go.
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SYDELL: Unidentified Woman: Two ringy dingy.
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SYDELL: Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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