Friday, October 22, 2010

Touch Screens, Gorilla-Arm Syndrome, and Ergonomics

"Why ‘Gorilla Arm Syndrome' Rules Out Multitouch Notebook Displays"
Tim Carmody, Gadget Lab, Wired (October 21, 2010)

"Apple's new MacBook Air borrows a lot of things from the iPad, including hyperportability and instant-on flash storage. But the Air won't use an iPad-like touchscreen. Neither will any of Apple's laptops. That's because of what designers call 'gorilla arm.'

"And while Apple points to its own research on this problem, it's a widely recognized issue that touchscreen researchers have known about for decades...."

The focus of the article is on Apple, iPad, Mac, control interfaces and human engineering (it's called "ergonomics" now). The Lemming's interested in that - but also in this bit of linguistic history:

"...'Gorilla arm' is a term engineers coined about 30 years ago to describe what happens when people try to use these interfaces for an extended period of time. It's the touchscreen equivalent of carpal-tunnel syndrome. According to the New Hacker's Dictionary, 'the arm begins to feel sore, cramped and oversized - the operator looks like a gorilla while using the touchscreen and feels like one afterwards.'

According to the NHD, the phenomenon is so well-known that it's become a stock phrase and cautionary tale well beyond touchscreens: ' "Remember the gorilla arm!" is shorthand for "How is this going to fly in real use?".' You find references to the 'gorilla-arm effect' or 'gorilla-arm syndrome' again and again in the scholarly literature on UI research and ergonomics, too....

That bit of cultural history and etymology may not have quite the same wide appeal as Rose Bowl coverage: but the Lemming's interested in that sort of thing.

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