Thursday, June 7, 2007

Touchscreen navigation: touch or scratch?

With the encroachment of the self glorifying iPhone, it shows that touchscreens are starting to break trough the mainstream barrier. What is really interesting here though is the innovation of navigation methods using a touchscreen on a small device. Apple seem to be pushing the fact that we already have hand fulls of stylus', namely our fingers. So we should use those, and throw out the old stylus.

The idea of using a finger on a small device touchscreen is not new. My old iPaq would accept finger touches, albeit very difficult to register a press and inaccurate, but it did work for things like the media player. However this raises two main points that pop up when the stylus is thrown all together in favour of the finger.
Accuracy and Visibility - when you're touching a button, you obscure it. This may reduce the accuracy of the button and it definitely removes its visibility. Issues that can be huge on a small-screen device. Apple, being the kooky bunch that they are came up with a reverse-touch approach. I think this one fails too because when you're going to touch a button, you want to go and touch it directly, not have to wind your hand around the back of the device. The awkward feeling of this would actually shift my preference towards obscuring the button on order to press it.
A simple stylus would solve both of these issues. It is both accurate and does not obscure what it's pressing, making for a usefull little stick. C'mon Apple, dropping this? Really?
This should not, however, detract from the viability of using fingers as a navigation device on small device touchscreens. Indeed it doesn't look that bad on the iPhone. But what also impressed me is that in parallel, a Taiwanese company HTC have released their version of how some of this navigation can work. Also I'm glad that they stole some of iPhone's thunder by releasing this device before the iPhone.

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