Convergence, possible or not?



  • So, Canonical are now officially giving up on both Ubuntu Touch and Unity. So I guess they came to the same insight as Microsoft on the matter, only took them a few years more. So that means that MS, Apple and Canonical have now been trying the whole convergence thing.

    It's interesting, because despite the increase in touch devices it hasn't become popular on desktops/laptops at all. Touchscreens for laptops and desktops still feels like a minority, or goes unused when they come with one. So that means that when using a traditional computer, people want a traditional interface and going for an interface that works on both for a unified experience isn't welcome. Also, it may not be helped by both MS and Canonical being so late to the mobile device party that the train had already left and the effort required to gain momentum was too high. So, to me, it looks like touch-based interfaces on desktops and laptops wont become a thing, at least not for the foreseeable future.

    Apple, despite have the best chances to go for a unified experience, have been the most calm about it. Instead of pushing convergence with a full redesign of macOS, they've skipped a full touch interface and touchscreens for their desktops and laptops. Instead they opted for multi-touch trackpads to fill that role, which does feel more elegant. Also, adding the iOS features as optional ways of using the computer instead of replacing the traditional way. I would say the largest worry on the Apple front is the rumors that they will switch to their own CPUs in the laptop and desktop ranges for convergence, which would fuck up compability with other PCs. Hopefully that idea will be dropped before it can be realized.

    So, is convergence dead or does it still have a chance? Because it looks like the past years of attempts have pretty much failed so I wonder how viable it is to keep trying for it, and if it is fully possible to make a unified interface that works equally good for desktops/laptops and mobile devices.



  • It could also be a reaction to criticism of Canonical constantly trying to reinvent everything instead of using and contributing to community projects.


  • Impossible Mission - B

    I think the key to the whole matter is here:

    @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    Apple, despite have the best chances to go for a unified experience, have been the most calm about it. Instead of pushing convergence with a full redesign of macOS, they've skipped a full touch interface and touchscreens for their desktops and laptops. Instead they opted for multi-touch trackpads to fill that role, which does feel more elegant.

    There are two basic things you can do with a touchscreen: touch and multitouch. Touch is essentially pretending your finger is a mouse, using it to "click" and drag things. It's far clumsier than using a mouse, and it's basically just a hack to make up for the fact that it's very awkward to connect a mouse to a phone.

    Multitouch, on the other hand, is a whole other creature. It has nothing to do with pretending to be a mouse, as where you "click" isn't really relevant; what matters is what the different touches do relative to each other, rather than relative to elements on the screen. (Pinch/un-pinch to zoom in and out, for example. If the on-screen position is relevant at all, it's as a single "central point" that you can just use the current mouse pointer position for, on desktop systems.) Therefore, you can remove the touchscreen from the equation entirely and replace it with a trackpad.

    Considering how clunky touchscreen interfaces tend to be, full of hacks to get around the fact that they don't have a mouse, it's just dumb to replace a desktop OS that does have a mouse with touch functionality where it's not needed.


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    So that means that when using a traditional computer, people want a traditional interface and going for an interface that works on both for a unified experience isn't welcome.

    As an owner of a Surface Pro, I have to disagree. I use all input methods (touch, mouse, pen) depending on the situation.

    Also, it may not be helped by both MS and Canonical being so late to the mobile device party that the train had already left and the effort required to gain momentum was too high.

    ^This. Canonical's recent decision had nothing to do with whether convergence is a good idea, they simply had no chance due to Android.

    Also, the whole Windows 8 debacle managed to convince everyone that convergence sucks before anyone had a chance of trying to do it right.


  • Impossible Mission - B

    @asdf said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    Also, the whole Windows 8 debacle managed to convince everyone that convergence sucks before anyone had a chance of trying to do it right.

    I don't believe it can be done right. It's hard to get around the simple fact that touch (not multitouch) really, really sucks. A mouse pointer can give you single-pixel precision, but touch is full of fat-finger errors, for the simple reason that your fingertip is fatter than a single pixel. There's simply no possible way to fix that. (Not without using Atari-sized pixels, at least!)


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    I don't believe it can be done right.

    Windows 10 is pretty close to doing it right in some places. For example, Explorer automatically increases the spacing between elements when I'm not using my type cover.

    The key is adapting to the current input method while keeping the basic UI the same.


  • area_can

    @Atazhaia Apple lets you answer texts etc from your laptop, which is pretty nifty. Shocker, when you try to reply to it on your laptop it doesn't automatically launch a full-screen tablet application! You just type into the default messaging app



  • @LB_ Yeah, my main gripe with Ubuntu is their NIH attitude, which is a key reason for me looking to go over to Mint Debian (or just plain Debian) instead of Mint Regular. I figured I don't have much need for Ubuntu-specific features anymore so I don't need Ubuntu compatibility in that way.

    @asdf From what I have seen, the Surface looks like the best hybrid offering available in going seamlessly between tablet and laptop modes. And it also runs on standard laptop hardware, meaning the ability to install any Windows program with the caveat of some not responding well to a pure touch interface.

    @masonwheeler Like @asdf said, convergence could work if the UI adapts to the input method. The problem lies in the fact that a touch-optimized UI gets clunky to use with mouse input and vice versa so making a UI that works with both in a good way without adapting wont happen anytime soon I believe.

    @bb36e The issue with the Apple way is that you need to be in the Apple ecosystem to use it. I can't reply to texts on the iPhone from a non-Apple computer because the app doesn't exist. Sadly, working with any system is not an option in the Apple way.



  • @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    they've skipped a full touch interface and touchscreens for their desktops and laptops. Instead they opted for multi-touch trackpads to fill that role, which does feel more elegant

    What if that trackpad was a touch screen too?

    What if your keyboard or even the entire table it's on were also touch screens? Just food for thought.

    Edit: inspiration


  • area_can

    @anonymous234

    Keyboard...touch screen

    :nauseated_face:



  • I think the convergence concept is broken. We interact with different things in different ways, and trying to come up with a single UI for all of them goes against basic design and usability principles.

    For instance, I have a dual monitor setup with my laptop providing a 17" screen and a second 28" monitor a bit farther away. They're not touchscreens, but if they were, I'd have to be moving my hands all over the place to click, swipe, or otherwise interact with programs spread over both screens. That's a lot of physical effort compared to keeping both hands on the keyboard and occasionally grabbing the mouse when context-switching.

    In my cellphone, on the other hand, I can reach most of the screen using only the thumb of the hand holding it. I only need to use my second hand if I want to do a more complex gesture, like a pinch. Typing is annoying on the phone, so I limit it to instant messages. I read mail on it, and may answer an urgent message, but I write my messages on real keyboards.



  • The way I see it:

    • A keyboard + mouse is definitely better than a touch screen
    • A big screen is definitely better than a small screen
    • The size of the screen and the input methods greatly affects how the user interface should be built
    • It's pretty much impossible to turn a good desktop interface into a good phone interface automatically or viceversa

    Which means that

    • People will continue to use desktop computers wherever they can
    • Programmers will continue to be expected to make several interfaces for the same program

    So no, I don't think we'll ever combine phone apps and desktop apps. However:

    • "Technical" convergence, i.e. same code running on all kinds of devices, is both possible and desirable. Fuck having two separate sets of programs that don't sync properly.
    • Programmers are lazy, and people generally tolerate crappy interfaces. It's better to have a program run on your computer with a scaled up phone interface than to not be able to run it at all

    Which means that what will happen is that good programs and websites will have a proper desktop and phone interface, while all the rest just make a phone one (lowest common denominator) and use it everywhere.



  • @anonymous234 Something I'm thinking about is if the TouchBar is a test project to see if a fully touchscreen-based keyboard is a possibility. But the issue they'd have to solve is power usage. A screen draws a lot more power than a keyboard, so they'd need to do something to keep the same battery life. From what I've heard, just the TouchBar is making a noticeable impact on the MacBooks that have it so as of now a full touchscreen keyboard and/or trackpad would be unfeasible to keep a long battery life. The second issue is that a touchscreen lacks haptic feedback from physical keyboard keys. Which could be somewhat solved by adding a rumble feature or similar, but that's still not the same.

    I was reminded of a MacBook iPhone dock I saw too. I think the intended idea behind that the "shell" contains an extra battery, keyboard and a full screen so you can convert your phone into a laptop at need, with the phone's touchscreen taking the role of trackpad. The concept is interesting, but then there is a problem of iOS not really being adapted for use as a desktop OS so I dunno how that'd pan out. There's also the issue of different phone sizes, as well as if Apple would change the connector in the future and how that would be solved.



  • @anonymous234 said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    what will happen is that good programs and websites will have a proper desktop and phone interface

    Or phones get 3px wider and it's the desktop interface for all!



  • @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    From what I've heard, just the TouchBar is making a noticeable impact on the MacBooks that have it

    Compared to what? I have a TouchBar Macbook Pro at home and a previous generation Macbook Pro at work and there's not a noticeable impact on the former. In fact, I'd say the battery lasted longer on the newer machine but I've no idea if that's just because it's newer or not.

    The TouchBar doesn't make much difference while it's just replacing one row - I don't think it'd work very well replacing the full keyboard though.



  • @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    The second issue is that a touchscreen lacks haptic feedback from physical keyboard keys. Which could be somewhat solved by adding a rumble feature or similar, but that's still not the same.

    What you really want is a real keyboard with physical keys that's also a touchpad or touch screen, like the BlackBerry Passport or an advanced version of those Optimus keyboards.

    Until then, stick with the keyboards and maybe a small screen on the side.

    @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    I think the intended idea behind that the "shell" contains an extra battery, keyboard and a full screen so you can convert your phone into a laptop at need, with the phone's touchscreen taking the role of trackpad

    I really like this idea too. But to make it perfect, it should also be able to plug and unplug CPUs and GPUs, and software should be built to handle that.



  • @loopback0 Think it was compared to previous gen MBP. But, eh, :shrug: . MacBooks have really good battery life. Mine can still do over 4 hours despite being 5.5 years old. So it may just be nothing.

    @anonymous234 I don't think the technology is quite ready for that kind of keyboard. At least not on any sort of affordable level, which also means application support will be lacking until it is.
    Also, in regards to the laptop concept: Making it modular with the ability to replace and add more powerful hardware is quite cool, but then it ends up the problem with where it stops being an expanded phone and begins being a laptop on its own. Modular laptops have been tried, but not reached any major breakthrough. I love the concept and wouldn't mind one, but lack of general availability puts a stop to that.



  • @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    There's simply no possible way to fix that.

    A tiny trackball, pointing stick, or similar control device could be incorporated onto the phone to provide precision pointing.


  • Impossible Mission - B

    @djls45 But then it's not touch anymore; you're back to the mouse cursor concept.



  • @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    Modular laptops have been tried, but not reached any major breakthrough. I love the concept and wouldn't mind one, but lack of general availability puts a stop to that.

    Plus it's likely going to be at the cost of size and weight. That's not an issue with a desktop machine but it is when it's a laptop.



  • @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    A mouse pointer can give you single-pixel precision, but touch is full of fat-finger errors, for the simple reason that your fingertip is fatter than a single pixel. There's simply no possible way to fix that.

    I agree, but what about styluses though?

    What I miss the most in touch interfaces is the satisfying feedback of mechanical clicks. That and hover effects.


  • Impossible Mission - B

    @Zecc Tactile feedback, hover, click vs. click-and-drag, left-click vs. right-click vs. middle-click... all sorts of mousing functionality is lost or significantly complicated when you throw out the mouse.



  • @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    click vs. click-and-drag, left-click vs. right-click vs. middle-click

    Trackpads and Multi-touch touch screens can handle all these.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    @masonwheeler We've been developing mouse-based interfaces for fifty years, it's no wonder all of our current GUI paradigms work better for a mouse. The biggest problem with mice is they're not intuitive if you haven't used one; clicking vs double-clicking is a matter of memorizing OS paradigms, and ditto with the difference between a left and a right mouse click. Click and drag is less intuitive than touch-and-drag, which works the same way. Hover only works with a mouse, but it was invented to compensate for discoverability issues (putting a highlight around something to show you can interact with it, or showing a tooltip, for example) in the first place. Touch interfaces are just getting started, I'm eager to see where they'll end up. Right now it's kind of a hodge-podge of throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.



  • @Atazhaia said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    Touchscreens for laptops and desktops still feels like a minority, or goes unused when they come with one. So that means that when using a traditional computer, people want a traditional interface and going for an interface that works on both for a unified experience isn't welcome.

    Because the idea isn't (wasn't?) to add touch capabilities to your desktop as much as to put the full Windows experience on your tablet. And to Windows 8's credit, it was a pretty awesome tablet OS, and I didn't upgrade my tablet to 10 since it felt like Microsoft backpedaled on the idea.


  • Impossible Mission - B

    @Yamikuronue said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    The biggest problem with mice is they're not intuitive if you haven't used one

    Sure, but the same can be said of any UI; it's not specific to mice.

    clicking vs double-clicking is a matter of memorizing OS paradigms, and ditto with the difference between a left and a right mouse click.

    Agreed. But my point is that you can do these things. You can kinda-sorta emulate a right-click with a long touch, but that takes more time, and it gets confusing trying to distinguish between that and a touch-and-drag, which requires a long touch to distinguish it from a swipe gesture.

    Click and drag is less intuitive than touch-and-drag, which works the same way.

    See above. I'm not talking about intuitiveness, because that stops being important after a few days of training; I'm talking about power. It's simply not possible to do all the things you can do with a mouse with touch.

    Hover only works with a mouse, but it was invented to compensate for discoverability issues (putting a highlight around something to show you can interact with it, or showing a tooltip, for example) in the first place.

    Does that need go away when using a touch interface?



  • @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    You can kinda-sorta emulate a right-click with a long touch

    Or two fingers. Like a trackpad.

    @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    It's simply not possible to do all the things you can do with a mouse with touch.

    Yes it is. If it can be done on a trackpad, it can be done on a touchscreen.


  • Impossible Mission - B

    @loopback0 Nope. As I said earlier, touch and multitouch are two fundamentally different things. If you try to implement right-click that way, you get into a huge headache of determining which point was the single canonical "clicked location." That's bad enough with only one fat finger involved; it would be a nightmare with two!



  • @masonwheeler So add a cursor and turn the screen effectively into a massive touchpad. Or don't, because it can still be solved.

    @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    which point was the single canonical "clicked location.

    Whichever finger hits the screen first.

    @masonwheeler said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    That's bad enough with only one fat finger involved

    My phone manages it.



  • @Yamikuronue said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    the difference between a left and a right mouse click

    The difference between a tap and a long press.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    @LB_ Yeah, exactly. I'm not at all convinced that the touch interfaces we have are the best we can do



  • @loopback0 said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    So add a cursor and turn the screen effectively into a massive touchpad

    Hey, I like this idea.



  • @Maciejasjmj Windows now feels like it's kinda in the state where it's undecided on what it wants to be. Half of it wants to be a tablet OS while the other half wants to be a desktop OS. Which I guess makes sense for the Surface, but then again it also gets fun when you're trying to figure which settings are in the new touch-friendly settings panel and which are still in the old mouse-friendly control panel.

    As for the mouse vs touch discussion... There are problems with both mouse/trackpad and touchscreen inputs too. Do I need/want to support one or both ways, and what additional ways of input do I have the option to use? A mouse pointer can hover. Hovering on touchscreens is limited to a small subset of devices with that functionality. Some touchdevices got ForceTouch and similar to measure the strength in a press. Mice can have extra buttons anywhere from a couple to a dozen and more. That adds a design consideration when I may want to support a way of input that I can't rely on a device to have. How do I fall back and include it for those who only have the basic inputs? And what touch input should match a certain mouse input? Would a longpress be a rightclick, or is it like holding down the left button for a longer time? It's all complicated.



  • @anonymous234 Try out a remote desktop client on your phone and tell me if you still like the idea. Both Google's and Microsoft's client work that way, IIRC.


  • Impossible Mission Players - A

    @LB_ said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    @anonymous234 Try out a remote desktop client on your phone and tell me if you still like the idea. Both Google's and Microsoft's client work that way, IIRC.

    FWIW it worked fine for me. My only complaint was that pixels are damn tiny at 1080p resolution on a 5-inch screen.

    Of course, not preferred, because keyboard on phone, but I can honestly say I only lost 62 percent efficiency from doing my emergency PHP hacking on mobile.



  • @Tsaukpaetra it works fine for me too but I just prefer touch-optimized interfaces on small screens.



  • @LB_ said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    @anonymous234 Try out a remote desktop client on your phone and tell me if you still like the idea. Both Google's and Microsoft's client work that way, IIRC.

    I have used VNC. The way I see it the way moving forward is to have the best of both worlds by providing on demand mouse emulation when you need it, either via a dedicated gesture or via a widget on screen.

    Btw, Google, can we please have a better way of positioning the text cursor on Android? If we can't have a virtual nipple mouse at least give us cursor keys on the default soft keyboard.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    An example that I remembered last night: I started playing the game 999 on the DS, where it originally came out, but later actually completed it in HD Remake form on the PS3. The freedom to touch anything on the screen with the stylus was a much better control scheme for that game than having to move a cursor using the analog stick. Primarily because the game was designed for the former scheme and ported to the latter. Applications that were designed for mouses don't necessarily do well for touch, but that's never going to be the best use of touch any more than 999 is the best use of an analog stick.


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    @Zecc said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    If we can't have a virtual nipple mouse at least give us cursor keys on the default soft keyboard.

    You can configure Gboard to interpret swipes on the space key as moving the cursor. It's about 100x easier to position the cursor correctly that way.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work on this forum. At least not in Firefox.



  • @Yamikuronue said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    The biggest problem with mice is they're not intuitive if you haven't used one; clicking vs double-clicking is a matter of memorizing OS paradigms, and ditto with the difference between a left and a right mouse click.

    Acorn Archimedes A3010 System Review & RISC Explained | Nostalgia Nerd – 15:17
    — Nostalgia Nerd

    I learned to use a GUI system on a RISC OS system and didn't touch a PC until windows XP (I used to hand write assignments well into 2004).

    Right click was totally different than what is right click these days.

    Also with Amiga Workbench windows don't automatically have focus when clicking on them unlike window. You must explicitly give them focus.


  • SockDev

    @lucas1 said in Convergence, possible or not?:

    Right click was totally different than what is right click these days.

    Also, you had a middle-click which is even more different to today.



  • @RaceProUK Amiga right click is like select a menu option. It totally fucks your muscle memory.



  • On the convegence stuff.

    As a front end developer. Even getting a website to work properly cross platform and different form factors is difficult.

    Ubuntu also had the problem of trying to re-invent the wheel on a platform where the wheel was re-invented quite often badly.

    Unity actually was pretty good. But Fedora was a better distro to learn how to use. Most setups in large corps are Windows or use Redhat or CentOS.

    Ubuntu is used a lot on VPS because it is cheap any there are a lot of guides. But professionally I haven't seen Ubuntu used alot outside of a desktop.


  • BINNED

    @lucas1 nah, man. This is totally the year of Ubuntu on the server!


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