Species-Inappropriate Touch Screens

As long as I’m on the topic of Inappropriate Touch Screens, let me turn to the booming field of tablet-based “games for cats”. Given that the World Wide Web was built so people could put up pictures of their cats, who is surprised that cat lovers are a major target for mobile devices?

But entertaining pictures of cats are for people. But there is also a torrent of touchscreen games, supposedly for people to play with their cat. C’mon.

For example, a sample of games is reviewed by Yaara Lancet (IOS, Android), and Purina offers an array of games.

I can’t possibly review them all, and there is little need to do so. As Michelle Westerlaken comments, despite alleged “research”, the games all work the same way (a moving target to chase) and “do not really seem to take the senses and perceptions of the animal into account.”

The Purina games are said to have been developed “using a feline focus group of different ages and breeds.” (No word on the selection of the sample, the process that might have been used in these groups, nor on any control groups, such as “dangling a string”.) The results “revealed that cats are most intrigued by the intricate movements of objects as they wiggle or spin across the screen.” They also discovered (or at east look up) that cats can’t actually see most of the colors that your expensive tablet can display (those are there for you to watch movies).

I’m hoping this press release was a joke, because it is certainly laughable to say that anyone needed to conduct “research” to discover this particular fact. What they describe here is cargo cult “social science”, debasing the already weak currency of usability studies.

Other reports indicate that cat’s claws do no harm to the glass display (though they are hard on plastic protectors), but I’m pretty sure that paws and noses do not really register well with the touch sensing. (Heck, your tablet does track your own nose and tongue touches either.) Other inputs (e.g., shaking and tilting the device) are inaccessible to felines.

The bottom line is: tablets are essentially unusable by felines, except for the visual display, which is only partly usable. I conclude that these games are not only Inappropriate Touch Screen Interfaces, they also are Species-Inappropriate Interfaces, period.

It is abundantly clear that these games are primarily for the people, not the cats. Some cats (but certainly not all cats) will play these games. This does no harm, but does not benefit the cats any more than other similar games, such as chase a laser pointer or a piece of string. In fact, these would probably give them more fun and exercise than the touch screen based game.

This is bad design and a waste of a perfectly good tablet.

Furthermore, these games also teach us nothing we did not know about cats, or about human relations to cats.  So they aren’t even food for thought.

I’m consigning these games en masse to  the Inappropriate Touch Screen Files (Species-Inappropriate category).



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