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Please, don’t touch: EWI’s guide to touchless interfaces

By June 18, 2020Uncategorized

By Krystle Minette, Director of Digital Production & Jackie Dryden, Senior Digital Art Director

In case you need another reminder of how drastically COVID-19 has changed the landscape of customer experience, consider this: touch screens, long accepted as the de-facto way to interact with a public-facing digital experience (auto show wheelstands, information walls, retail self-serve kiosks), are now seen as unhygienic by some customers. 

Which is pretty understandable — and in this case, science seems to side with caution. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that 100% of the 17 public grocery store touchscreens that were tested had colonies of bacteria on them. Imagine what an ultra contagious virus like COVID-19 would do on one. 

Now, rest assured, touchscreens will still have their place in the post-COVID world. They’re readily available, relatively inexpensive (especially when you consider their minimal footprint requirements) and incredibly useful when you have to pack a lot of information into a small, crowded, or noisy space. But still. In hindsight, it’s amazing that we all kind of adopted public touch screens for a long as we did.

What follows is a list of some of the technologies that EWI is utilizing to deliver the “touchless” interactive experience consumers and our clients are asking for — as well as some challenges each of them face. 

1. Gesture control & hand tracking

Gesture and hand control is gaining traction. Technologies like Ultraleap, Intel RealSense and Google Soli track the position of a user’s hands or body to control digital content — without touching a screen. This can lead to natural, engaging experiences that delight users without making them touch a screen. Mid-air haptic feedback can be added to further boost user engagement.

However, gesture control is not a perfect fit for every use case or situation. Gestures are not always self-explanatory the way a “home” button on a touchscreen might be. For a complicated gesture (such as “click and drag”), the technology might not be the best fit. And though Ultraleap’s technology is accurate even in a busy place (it doesn’t “scan out” into a crowd), implementation of gesture-based interfaces still should take crowds into consideration.

2. Remote navigation via web application

Web-based mobile applications allow guests the ability to simply scan a provided QR code to launch a mobile web app on their personal device — bypassing the need to download a traditional app from an app store. A remote navigation web-based application can be used to let guests navigate through an interface much the same way they’d use a traditional public touch screen. But they can do so from the comfort and safety of their own device — which means that they know exactly where the screen they are touching has been and who has touched it. Safe, secure, and smart.  

Web apps still pose certain challenges though. They require that users have access to solid mobile signal strength and or wifi connectivity in order to work effectively, making them tough to implement in remote locations. They also require that users have a smartphone, but given that almost everyone in the US has a smartphone, we don’t see this as a huge barrier.

3. Voice control

Voice recognition software enables users to speak to a computer directly — which is arguably the most natural (not to mention coolest) way to interact with a digital interface. (Remember David Hasselhoff and KITT?) And many of us are already intimately familiar with voice recognition, as it’s already included in most smartphones and (thanks to Alexa, Portal, et al.) has already made its way into many of our homes. Voice recognition is ripe for deployment as a way to bolster customer experience.

Some challenges exist here though. Voice control is not suitable for all use-cases (ex: entering sensitive information such as PIN numbers, or in noisy locations). And factors like an accent (or a speech impediment) can turn an otherwise great experience into an ordeal.

Final thought

Please note that (like a good set of jeans) one size does not fit all. All technologies (even those as ubiquitous as pre-COVID touchscreens) have benefits and drawbacks. Start with your intended experience, and choose the technology that best fits. And if you want someone to help you think it through, make sure to reach out.