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Input Devices Handhelds Software Hardware

Making Fingers Work With Touch Screens 111

An anonymous reader writes "A paper was recently published about Shift at the Computer Human Interaction Conference earlier this month. The authors (Daniel Vogel, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and Patrick Baudisch, a research scientist at Microsoft Research) developed the technology to solve several problems with mobile-phone touch screens. Most such screens are designed to be operated with a stylus; when touched with a finger the UI doesn't work so well. They also created a short video with a demonstration of how Shift works. Shift builds on an existing technology known as Offset Cursor, which displays a cursor just above the spot a user touches on the screen. That allows a user to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger."
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Making Fingers Work With Touch Screens

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  • by u-bend ( 1095729 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @10:48AM (#19161837) Homepage Journal
    Ever since it was announced, I've been wondering how well its touch screen is actually going to perform in everyday use? Anyone had an opportunity to play with one of the demos for an extended period of time?
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @10:50AM (#19161871)
    Yeah, yeah, grooming experts tell you to trim your fingernails but why is it I always run into a problem where I need them right after I trim them? Yeah, yeah, that's what pocket knives are for. Anyways, with a small touchscreen like a Palm pilot, if you have just a wee bit of fingernail, you can poke the screen with that rather than pull out the stylus. The trick is to have just enough nail that you can do this but not so much that you look like Freddy Krueger. I suppose another way around it is to put a poking device on your pointer finger but that might get mistaken for a gom jabbar. Try getting THAT past the TSA at the airport!
  • Re:Counterintuitive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @10:59AM (#19162043)
    Its how the ticket machines at my local train station were working the other day. I almost bought a First Class single instead of Standard return, luckily I noticed that the price was slightly out before I put my card in, then figured out that there was a vertical offset on the touchscreen. A cursor might have helped alert me earlier, but its still counter intuitive.
  • or you could... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brunascle ( 994197 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @11:04AM (#19162149)
    tip the screen around [technologyreview.com] all willy-nilly like. it'd be fun for emulating those old tilt-the-thingy-and-get-the-ball-in-the-whole games.
  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @11:13AM (#19162283) Journal
    This is interesting, because I've been working on finger touch based UIs of late. I've come to a few conclusions:

    The touchscreen for many devices is physically designed for use with a stylus. They require quite a bit of force to register, and it is difficult to apply that much pressure with a finger because of the amount of surface area contacted. The DELL Axim touchscreens work particularly well with finger touch, while others, like the Asus a716, do not.

    GUI Design is critical. Microsoft's history with mobile devices has been to make them as much like Windows 95 (and up) as possible. Windows CE 1.0 was exactly like Windows 95. Although with Pocket PC (CE 3.0) they tried to follow Palm's dominant (at that time) lead, and simplify the GUI, it is still most conducive to mouse / stylus input. The iPhone is a perfect example of how to design a GUI for finger based input. The multi-touch hardware capability is not even an issue at this point - pure software design is responsible for the bulk of the usability.

    Along those lines, Microsoft prefers static dialogs that show as much information at once as possible, requiring small, desktop-like controls that demand precision stylus input. The iPhone is dynamic, scrolling in new options as the user make selections. Thus they have room for large, finger-sized buttons, because the display changes constantly. Many controls, like scrollbars, are unnecessary because entire display areas (like lists) can simply be dragged and tossed, which is the most natural behavior in the first place. The scrollbar then becomes only a visual indicator, which can even be hidden when the user is not interacting with the screen.

    I've put together some code that behaves like the iPhone's drag interface, both in 2D for rectangular regions, and 1D for lists. It works really well on the Axim, again, because its touchscreen is nice and sensitive, even when retrofitted to existing Windows List controls. So it obviously is not a matter of hardware, but GUI design, that Windows Mobile isn't conducive to touch input.

    So basically, this article is not stating the real problem, which is that MS is completely missing the mark with the fundamentals of their mobile GUI. But instead it offers a clumsy hack to work around an improperly designed UI. The ironic thing is Shift's Offset Cursor doesn't work at the bottom of the screen. That area is the most important for user interaction, because controls are strategically placed their so the user's fingers (hand / stylus) conceal as little extraneous area of the display as possible. That is why onscreen keyboards are always at the bottom, which makes them inaccessible to this Shift hack. The article fails to mention that little detail too.

    Dan East
  • by nostriluu ( 138310 ) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @12:25PM (#19163841) Homepage
    You laugh, but I used a fingernail with my Fujitsu B series notebook and SE P800.. just curve your pointing finger and use the nail.. it works quite well - accurate, and no finger grease. So I don't see what the big deal is.

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