Wednesday, October 17, 2007

'Transparent' gadget could trump iPhone interface

A new input device for fat fingers ...

"A touch-sensitive gadget with the sensing panel on its back, instead of the screen, is being developed by US researchers. Using your fingers behind the device allows a firmer grip and more accurate performance without obscuring your view of the screen, they say.

Multi-touch interface technology hit the commercial market this year, with the US release of Apple's iPhone in June. But the iPhone's touchscreen is not perfect, says Daniel Wigdor of Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL) and the University of Toronto, Canada.

"As soon as you put your hands on the display you [obstruct] the screen," he says, something he calls the "occlusion problem". Users of iPhones have other problems too, he adds. "Multi-touch devices detect the entirety of the touch area,” Wigdor continues. "That's what we call the 'fat finger' problem."

The two problems combined make it difficult to select precise targets, such as the keys on a virtual keyboard.
Fat fingers

Wigdor at MERL, and Patrick Baudisch at Microsoft Research and their co-authors have a novel solution to these problems. Their prototype, LucidTouch, is a device that can be held comfortably in two hands, similar to the PlayStation Portable (see video, right).

It has a large touch-sensitive LCD screen, similar to that used in the iPhone. But it can also be controlled using a touch-sensitive interface on its rear surface, a solution to the occlusion problem.

When using the rear touch interface, the user's fingers appear as shadows on the screen, giving the illusion they are holding a transparent device. LucidTouch highlights the active point of each finger with a small green dot, removing the fat finger problem. "We're trying to address the problem of occlusion by giving the user an idea of their input, while still being able to see through the hands to the screen," Wigdor says.

"I like the idea,"” says Alistair Edwards at the University of York. "It clearly addresses the occlusion problem, and using dots 'attached' to the fingers also attempts to address the fat-finger problem."    (Continued via New Scientist)    [Usability Resources]

Handheld device with touchscreen on the back. - Usability, User Interface Design

Handheld device with touchscreen on the back.

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