"Since Apple's introduction of the iPhone, it seems like everyone is excited at the possibility of implementing a touch screen, and why not? There are a lot of benefits to touch-screen interfaces: Extreme flexibility in visual and interaction design allows products and applications to be tailored for specific needs and audiences to target markets; less reliance on hardware controls means significant savings in mechanical cost; larger screens allow more opportunities for richness in states and animations; greater flexibility also means the possibility to reduce waste in the creation of longer-lasting devices with upgradable OS's and software.
But with the flexibility of touch-screen interfaces come drawbacks. Typing is slower and less accurate than on a physical keyboard, and many functions require more taps than those tied to hardware controls. (Compare the number of taps required to access a single email on a Treo to the same action on an iPhone). There is tremendous opportunity to investigate how physical controls can be used in conjunction with touch screens in terms of on-device positioning, state functionality and force sensitivity behaviors to achieve an optimized balance in the end user experience.
To better understand these opportunities, I did a quick survey of some current and future products with this question in mind: How can hardware controls on portable devices integrate with touch screens to advance the current user experience?
There has been a great deal of progress made to improve usability, extend functionality and introduce more tactile feedback mechanisms to the touch interface experience:
* Gyroscopic sensors for display format orientation and gaming
* Proximity, light, motion sensing
* Texture and material simulations
* 3D simulation
* Multi finger input technology
* Audible and visual feedback for confirmation
* Customizable functional key vibration
* Physically moving displays to simulate a mechanical switch action
Reckoning with limitations
Information density still remains a major challenge in the design of portable touch interfaces. The human hand and fingers just don’t come in smaller sizes, so controls and functions must remain relatively large. At the same time, one wonders if older users even see the small on-screen buttons and icons or read font sizes smaller than 12 point. Is this a feasible platform for them or do they need specially-designed phones?" (Continued via Cooper Journal, Michael Voege) [Usability Resources]