Touch screens and surfaces, on devices that can be held in the hand and used comfortably, are the future of reading information.
Amazon Kindle with wireless broadband, Apple iPad, dual touch screen Toshiba tablets, large screen mobiles from Google, Nokia, and Samsung running Android, read-while-driving screens in cars with Google TV built in, huge LED and Plasma TV from Sony, GE Kiosks in Hospitals are some of the future devices.
Top-of-the mind, question-based search for information with any application is the need of the future (and is the future). Therefore, Help and user information would have to be short and crisp and absolutely relevant. Yet when needed, users should be able to find detailed procedures and reference information too. For this technical writers would need to analyze the possible questions users might have in a given context. User profiles would have to be spot on.
For example, user scenarios might say that a patient can use a self diagnosing instrument to test their blood sugar level or RBC count. However, the same information should also be available as an FAQ – Are you feeling dizzy today even after taking your medicine? Test your RBC count.
In another context, a system admin might be working on configuring the system for high availability and might want some information on replication in Oracle. In between the admin might tweak some parameters in an XML file in the mobile application version.
A user going through the steps to learn Adobe FrameMaker 7.0 (because the user has Frame 7.0 only), might be confused with irritating pop-ups related to Frame 9.0 (even though Adobe is hell bent on promoting Frame 9.0).
Therefore, writers would need to be thorough in their user scenarios. Writers would need to play the role of multiple users and write information. Yes this is what we have been doing all along but now with changing technology this becomes paramount. We may use DITA’s topic, concept, reference, and task types to the fullest. We may not write information based on guide but on audience and information type and technology.
I was trying to use my touch screen mobile but found access to features not “natural”. Even though I had never used a phone properly, I was able to use my older mobile phone easily. I never have thought of Help. However, with the touch screen I was finding it tough and had to look at the Help! Many of my questions were not answered easily.
I find the same problem with the Ribbon of MS Word. In this case, I had been used to accessing information in the “old way”.
I have also got feedback on my current Help system. Users are searching for information using keywords. They want a “Google” type of interface.
Thus as the world becomes touch screen based, the way we access applications will change. Interfaces will change. Users are impatient. The day is not far off when writers would need to provide information that is based on guessing the context. Equipment would “interact” with users and predict what users expect. Writers would need to analyze possible user needs.