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Handhelds Technology

"See-Through" Touchscreen Solves Fat Finger Problem 170

Posted by kdawson
from the eight-finger-salute dept.
Urchin sends along a New Scientist writeup on Microsoft Research's nanoTouch prototype, a way of operating a touch screen from the rear (video here). The prototype will be presented at the Computer and Human Interaction conference in Boston, Mass., in April 2009. Coming soon to a wristwatch or neck pendant near you. "Electronic devices have been shrinking for years, but you might be forgiven for thinking that one that's only a centimeter across would be just too difficult to operate. Microsoft Research's new nanoTouch device suggests otherwise. Touch-screens are difficult to control with any precision — the fingers get in the way of the tiny targets you're trying to hit. But putting the touch interface on the rear of the screen instead gives users more precision because they can still see the whole screen as they interact with it. Microsoft Research has produced a prototype device called nanoTouch with a rear-mounted touch interface. User tests show it lets users accurately and reliably hit targets just 2 millimeters across on a screen under a centimeter across."
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"See-Through" Touchscreen Solves Fat Finger Problem

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  • by Shadow7789 (1000101) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:27PM (#26175167)
    but I don't like it when people operate things from the rear.
  • by Dripdry (1062282) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:31PM (#26175227) Journal

    "Micro"soft.

    I'll be here all weekend, folks!

    Does anybody else think that eventually we might see some sort of tiny "stylus pad" that fits round the end of a finger? It could be a little white dot, so we can see where we're "clicking", there-by further decreasing fat finger syndrome.

  • by Odinson (4523) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:31PM (#26175231) Homepage Journal
    This is first thing in a long time from Microsoft that has truly impressed me. Amazing what you can accomplish with a little fear of competition. If this is truly novel, nice job!
    • by blhack (921171) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:34PM (#26175291)

      What about Surface [microsoft.com] (a multi-touch platform), or their Image compositing software [microsoft.com]?

      Don't worry, I run openbsd, and a few different linuxes, but seriously...microsoft does some interesting stuff! The microsoft-hate that goes on around here is kindof silly.

      • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:46PM (#26175473) Journal

        but seriously...microsoft does some interesting stuff! The microsoft-hate that goes on around here is kindof silly.

        Blasphemer!

        I banish you from Slashdot, and you shall be sacrificed to the all-mighty penguin!

      • Surface reminds me of desks from Enders Game. I can't even start to imagine just how much computer power I would need under that desk to make it work like in the demo.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iluvcapra (782887)

        Surface was kind of a stunt, an amalgam that demos superbly doesn't really have any broad application. I notice it gets major placement in the new Day the Earth Stood Still, and they even use the object-recognition when they place objects on the tabletop (though, in the movie as in real life, this is simulated and doesn't actually work without a lot of cheating.)

        Photosynth is slick though.

        • by Darundal (891860)
          Major placement? I am surprised that Klaatu's suit when he comes out of his sphere-o-craft isn't covered in windows logos. Major placement is one thing, whoring is another.
          • You will see more Macs displayed prominently in movies that you will PC's.
            • by Omestes (471991)

              True, and that distracts me to no end. Especially when you see super-secret government organizations using outdated iBooks.

              But just because your competitor whores themselves, doesn't make your own whoring any better. Whoring is whoring, no matter who does it. I'd be pissed off to see a computer completely dominated by Dell's running Ubuntu with Compiz.

              That said, I refuse to watch the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and as vehemently as I refused to watch the craptacular remakes of the Flight of

        • Well, hey, you may also have noticed how every computer screen in the movie was running Vista. Surely the government, particularly top-secret facilities like that, would show more taste?

          • by iluvcapra (782887)
            I don't think all the computer screens were running Vista, as much as Vista does it's best to look like computer screens in the movies...
            • Watch it again. There was at least one screen on which it is obviously, unmistakably Vista -- same curve of the taskbar and huge start button, same greenish background theme, everything.

              Considering that this movie was released after Vista, it seems much more likely that the screen was Vista, than that Microsoft somehow saw a prerelease of the movie and decided to build Vista that way.

              Just as with Surface -- yes, Surface is an idea right out of the movies. However, this particular display was quite obviously

        • Reminds me of Sun's Sunfire demo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmM4o17UvLU [youtube.com]

      • by D Ninja (825055) on Friday December 19, 2008 @02:17PM (#26175929)

        That image compositing software is extremely awesome. If you'd like to learn more about it, check out this article [istartedsomething.com].

        • yea, PhotoSynth is by far one of the most impressive (and innovative) pieces of software i've ever seen. imagine if all the photos on flickr were to be incorporated into a Google-Earth-type application using PhotoSynth. with the collective photos of millions of people around the world, you could create an amazing 3D virtual photo representation/documentation of the world. it could be used to provide virtual tours and would also be an invaluable tool to future anthropologists, giving them a snapshot of the l

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Don't know about Image composing software, but the concept of 'Surface' has surfaced plenty of times before Microsoft. [billbuxton.com] When I saw this, I immediately remembered back in my days at the UofT, I think I took the HCI class in 97, that's when I first saw the multi-touch screen concept, with ideas of dragging/dropping various windows on the table, overlaying various 'filters', for example one filter would be used for zoom function, another filter would OCR text, another filter would convert file formats etc.

      • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Friday December 19, 2008 @03:09PM (#26176499) Journal

        I certainly see a lot of interesting things demo'd at Microsoft R&D.

        And then get promptly ignored by the rest of the company, and never actually show up for market.

        Contrast this to, say, Apple, who never gives demos like that unless they're actually launching the product in the next few months -- or right away.

        Microsoft is too large a company to hate entirely. Bungie was part of them for awhile, after all -- I wanted to hate Halo for that, but it ended up actually being a good game. And they do seem to let their R&D department do some interesting things.

        Then they let business concerns drive everything else, and we end up with crap like Vista.

        Anyone want to guess how much better Microsoft would be with, say, Ballmer gone?

        • I certainly see a lot of interesting things demo'd at Microsoft R&D. And then get promptly ignored by the rest of the company, and never actually show up for market.

          Actually, there's a lot of stuff coming out of Microsoft Research that ends up in production software. They don't put it on the box in writing though, so few people know.

          For some examples that I know - the design and implementation of generics in .NET was done in Cambridge division of Microsoft Research; and the same guys are now working on

          • Actually, there's a lot of stuff coming out of Microsoft Research that ends up in production software.

            Certainly -- after all, if they had simply repackaged XP in shiny graphics, it might not have sucked as much as Vista. So they are obviously developing new things, for better or worse, which is by definition R&D.

            I'm talking about the more interesting stuff, like Singularity.

            For some examples that I know - the design and implementation of generics in .NET was done in Cambridge division of Microsoft Research;

            R&D? Yes. Innovation? Java had Generics first, and C++ had Templates before that.

            Maybe .NET generics are "better" somehow, but it's just not exciting to me. It doesn't have the same appeal as something like Surface, or Singularit

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by TechForensics (944258)

          Anyone want to guess how much better Microsoft would be with, say, Ballmer gone?

          Well, I think I can say for sure that if Ballmer left there'd almost certainly be more seats on the Board. But I kind of doubt he'd ever wind up losing the title of Chairman.

      • by genner (694963)

        The microsoft-hate that goes on around here is kindof silly.

        Wait are you saying microsoft isn't the incarnation of all that is evil?

        Burn the Witch!

      • I'm pretty sure he wasn't saying it impressed him because it was awesome; he meant it was impressive because Apple had done it first and given the idea credibility: http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/apple/next-gen-ipod-patent-has-touch-surface-on-back-259271.php [gizmodo.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aliquis (678370)

      We have had news about other devices having the touchpart on the rear earlier on Slashdot, so this isn't something totally new. Unless it was Microsoft that time to. It''s a good solution non the less.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Except Apple already described it a year and a half ago:

      http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/apple/next-gen-ipod-patent-has-touch-surface-on-back-259271.php

      Props to MS for publically demonstrating it first though.

      • by mdwh2 (535323)

        But was that on a transparent display? I see nothing about that in the link.

        And from the link:

        The newest iPod patent says that the "touch" and the "screen" don't have to go together.

        Wow, just like the touchpad on my laptop? Combining touch and screen together is the hard bit - touch pads that aren't combined with a screen are obviously easier, and have been around for ages. If Apple really have a patent for just sticking a touchpad on the back, then they are patent trolls. I guess the difficult bit for Micr

    • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:39PM (#26175367) Journal

      This is first thing in a long time from Microsoft that has truly impressed me. Amazing what you can accomplish with a little fear of competition. If this is truly novel, nice job!

      If you didn't read the article, all they did is put the touch sensitive portion on the back and have that activate a cursor on the front.

      At first I thought "Wow, that's a great idea"

      Then I thought "Duh, why didn't anyone else think of it?"

      Then I thought "Man, that's really limiting" - Imagine how slow typing would be on one of these devices. For each character you'd have to press to see the cursor, adjust for the actual location, then 'lock in' to press the button. Don't get me wrong, it's great for browsing and playing some games, but the Iphone's typing system would be better than this and an actual keyboard is still king.

      I do give some props to Microsoft though, I'm glad someone finally thought to do this.

      • by Chirs (87576) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:46PM (#26175467)

        Better would be something that could sense the position of your finger before you actually touch it, so that you could reliably cue in on the cursor position and only touch the sensor when the cursor was correctly positioned.

        My own main objection is that most of the time I see people using their touch-screen phone/pda with it nestled in the palm of their hand. Holding it that way you don't have access to the back of the device.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        Then I thought "Duh, why didn't anyone else think of it?"

        Just reiterating what someone else pointed out:

        The above is from May 2007...

        • Why is this flamebait? I'm genuinely curious. I thought the idea sounded familiar as well, now I know why.

          But the -1 makes me think there's more to it...is there a patent application from MS or something similar that says theirs came first? Or is this one significantly different somehow?

      • It's likely that if this takes off, that there will be haptic devices, either passive ones like the bumps on the F and J keys, or active ones like a braille teletype, to guide your fingers. Keyboards will always remain king for text input, but for many other domains this could be huge.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kramer2718 (598033)
        I think that a better solution to the fat finger problem would be tactile feedback. The reason that touch screen keyboards have more of a fat finger problem is that the user can feel that they are pressing a key correctly.
        • by waferhead (557795)

          I believe a better solution to the fat finger problem could be:

          A:don't use touchscreens.
          B:make the touchscreen bigger, to suit the customer, rather than fashion.

      • I'm a Microsoft hater, but I have to say this is really cool. [ Let's see how they try to force some connection to IE and the OS to lock you in. :-) ]

        Then I thought "Duh, why didn't anyone else think of it?"

        Every invention is obvious after someone thinks of it.

        Imagine how slow typing would be on one of these devices.

        Imagine how slow typing would be if you were limited to a 4x3 keboard and the best way to type was with your thumbs. It's amazing what we can learn to do.

        • by ex-geek (847495)

          Every invention is obvious after someone thinks of it.

          I thought of this before years ago and a million others probably too.

          Teenagers are still faster with two thumbs and T9 on a dial pad anyway. Typing on smaller devices is only an issue for older folk who didn't grow up with texting.

      • It strikes me as being similar to the old (untrue but still funny) story about NASA spending its own money to develop the Fisher Space Pen, while Russian astronauts used pencils.

        I have no trouble with the touch screen on my iPhone. The common widgets are sized so that there isn't anything you would need a stylus for (the typing isn't bad, you get used to it after a few minutes). It's been a while since I've used Windows Mobile but at the time I got the impression that there's no way you could get around wit

    • I disagree on that.
      I designed video games a long time ago and we used a dot on the screen for pointing a virtual gun. It generated a specific pixel pattern that was recognized by the targeting device. It seems to me that this is just creating a new way to do something when a free way is available in order to control and profit from something that can easily be done with free technology that has existed for 35 years.
      I can make a receptor that recognizes a position on a screen and makes positional correct
    • [...] If this is truly novel, nice job!

      I don't know if fiction counts, but the armored helmets of the EVA suits in Planetes [wikipedia.org] had this. With the visor of the helmet down, a display panel would be directly in front of the user's face; cameras mounted on the helmet would then feed images to that display, upon which a GUI (controllable by tapping on the exterior of the visor) was superimposed.

      Still, it's nice to see someone demonstrating a real working artifact.

    • Now I can't see the video, so it could be the same (though I doubt it), but isn't the summary pretty damn close to one of these? [hackaday.com]
  • by GreggBz (777373) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:39PM (#26175377) Homepage
    This is a great idea. It effectively doubles the real-estate usable for interface. You won't get smudges on the screen now. It's more comfortable like they said.

    With bigger screen people could even sit opposite you and you could watch what they do.

    A face to face game of transparent screen checkers would be sweet.
  • Can you hear Steve Jobs cursing M$ extra loud today? Not being able to enter text is one (of myriad) reasons why I'd never get an iPhone. In fact, it seems like an incredibly interesting technology which will be almost certainly never used in anything other than M$ products...
    • Apple has the patent (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.slashgear.com/apple-patent-shifts-controls-to-rear-of-ipod-105191/

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by russotto (537200)

        Well, at least Microsoft has sped up their development cycle. Now they're stealing Apple's ideas before Apple has even implemented them.

        ObInnuendo: Though somehow I'm not surprised it's Microsoft promoting a new way to take it in the rear.

  • 1cm across? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyByPC (841016) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:42PM (#26175401) Homepage
    Some of the inherent inaccuracy has to do with using touchscreen devices while walking, driving (in-car controls), riding mass transit, etc. Under these conditions, even 1cm accuracy is pretty good. I think most users would prefer a larger interface that works every time, rather than a smaller one which can be frustrating to use on a regular basis.
    • I can't even see something 1cm across any more..
    • yes, some may be due to movement. though i don't think most people have a harder time using a touchscreen while walking or driving--perhaps while running/jogging or off-roading, but those are very pretty extreme circumstances. most people wouldn't want a bulkier device just so that they can accurately manipulate the interface in such rare situations.

      the purpose of this technology is as they explained--to facilitate easier user-interaction and enable the use of smaller touchscreens. while 1 cm across might b

  • Yes! They solved the fat-finger problem! Now I won't need to get on a diet and give up greasy, greasy foods, AND I get to play with my toys. Bring in the fried chicken!
  • Dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:44PM (#26175447) Journal
    • And even then it wasn't original.

      Hack a Day posted something similar a while ago. It was only a prototype using a camera mounted behind the device, allowing you to type on back of the device using all your fingers.

      Sorry for not posting a link, I searched their site and can't find it. If anyone has the link, please post it (I want to read it again)
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday December 19, 2008 @01:48PM (#26175511)
    Just put the touchpad on the back of the device.

    Yes, it's a novel idea and hopefully one that will catch on. However, it's certainly not practical for "proper" monitors, or coffee-table sized thingys (like the toy microsoft demo'd a couple of years ago). Although I suppose in those cases, there is less need for small targets, as FFS is less of a problem

    I still think the whole concept of touch screens for office use is fundementally flawed. It requires you to have your arms raised to operate the screen - which is an unnatural position and very tiring to do for long periods of time. It does look impressive on s.f. files - with guys wavinhg their arms around. However, in terms of results obtained for human energy expended they're very inefficient and I suspect the consequences would make RSI claims pale into insignificance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by yincrash (854885)
      surface doesn't require your arms to be raised
    • ... the whole concept of touch screens for office use is fundementally flawed. It requires you to have your arms raised to operate the screen - which is an unnatural position and very tiring to do for long periods of time.

      Agreed. But this "see-through" demo shows that an innovation can potentially fix what at first seems to be a major problem. (Of course I won't know if this "see-through" idea is really a valid solution until I have a chance to play with it myself...).

      In the case of touchscreen technology, I agree that pressing on a vertical screen would get tiring real quick. And the sometimes-offered solution of having the touchscreen be horizontal (like Microsoft's "Surface") is also non-optimal (it would hurt your ne

      • by shawb (16347)
        Hmm... I wonder if a portable [wikipedia.org] version of your idea could be devised? Nah... forget it. Wouldn't work.
  • Wouldn't it be simpler to just place a cell phone call to a pool of typists and have them log into your PDA and type the stuff you wanted.
  • Wristwatch? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday December 19, 2008 @02:04PM (#26175731)

    Coming soon to a wristwatch or neck pendant near you.

    Ya, I tried pressing my watch from the back, but my wrist got in the way. On the up side, my pulse is strong.

  • First, one cm across is a pretty hard to hit target. We're below that already anyway, but let's say one cm. That I "cover" the target with my finger shouldn't be that much of a problem, I guess. People are usually able to memorize the location of that icon they want to press for the fraction of a second it takes to press it. So if it's under my finger, I press it. Easy, huh?

    Now, reaching around and tapping it from behind is a bit more tricky. You have to think reverse. It's not as bad as looking in the mirr

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Friday December 19, 2008 @02:14PM (#26175887)

    Google's already got working prototypes of see-thru fingers.

    • I know a guy who for a small fee will make sure you never see your fingers again, or say someone else if they owe you money.
  • How can you hit a target of 2mm when your finger is a centimeter across?

    I would hate to have to use an interface that actually relied on having this level of accuracy from the inputdev. even if they can extract a really good model of where you apply the pressure to the screen, it's not exactly trivial, or even possible, to turn that into an "intended point" or path.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HikingStick (878216)
      Do you forget the shape of a finger? Unless you've had a catastrophic accident with a snowblower (as did my father), the shape of the finger is such that a gentle touch can easily hit a small target. We're not talking about pressing the entire finger pad onto the surface of the touchscreen.
  • ...gives you the courtesy of a reach-around.

  • So what's this? A solution to the problem with the solution that lacked a problem? Can we just stop now please?
  • When will Microsoft be coming out with the miniClassic?

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