Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Question of Touchscreens

Touchscreens vs. No Touchscreens ...

"While mobile devices with touchscreens have been around for a long time, the launch of the iPhone has brought renewed focus on the debate about whether touchscreen-based user interfaces are an optimal solution for the mobile space. Of course, this isn’t an either/or debate: even the most ardent fan of touchscreens should realize that they’re wholly impractical on smaller screens, while personal preference plays a large role as well. Personally, I’m not a fan of touchscreens in most instances. I feel like they’re often poorly used as a shortcut by UI designers who see them as an excuse not to think things like menu structures through very well. But, I can still understand the attraction of a touchscreen for some people, as well as its value when implemented well.

Peter over at the S60 Browser Blog is firmly anti-touchscreen, saying they’re in most cases inferior to other input systems for computing devices.” He cites the lack of tactile feedback for text entry as the most significant disadvantage, and labels the iPhone’s attempts to overcome this as “hacks”. This is certainly an issue — another story today says that a study found the iPhone’s half as fast for text entry as devices with QWERTY keypads (though the study sounds a bit dubious). In addition to lack of tactile feedback, there are other physical limitations of touchscreen devices — such as how hard it is to use many of them with a single hand, whether because of form factor and size, or the need for a stylus.

I think the solution here for a platform provider like S60 is to support both touchscreens and non-touchscreens, but from a UI design perspective, that’s obviously difficult. It’s not impossible, though. The Sony Ericsson P900 I used a few years back did a somewhat decent job of combining a one-handed hardkey UI when its flip was closed with a touchscreen UI on a much bigger screen when the flip was open or removed; Nokia’s recent E90 Communicator, like its predecessors, has two fairly different interfaces (both S60 based)on its internal and external screens."    (Continued via MobHappy)    [Usability Resources]

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