Mobile devices bring touch into the user equation

Mobile devices bring touch into the user equation

New user interface technologies are making mobile pocket computers easier to work with

Haptic technology is also going into kiosks, ticketing machines, and reconfigurable video games in Las Vegas, he says. In addition, Samsung now has a phone out - though only for the South Korean market so far - with 22 different types of vibration, including clicks on the radio volume 'knob' and typing noises in text messaging.

Warmbier adds that the ideal from a usability standpoint appears to be a combination of colour change, sound and haptics.

Sensing a touch

In mobile phones and other devices, haptic feedback is being allied to technologies such as capacitive touch sensing. This is the same thing that's used in many laptop touchpads, but it has now been applied in transparent form to touchscreens, and also under curved plastic surfaces.

The latter means that it can be used to add controls to a device, says Robyn Palmer, a marketing specialist at capacitive sensor developer Synaptics.

For example, a mobile phone control-key now need only be an area of the case with a touch sensor, plus haptics to make it feel like a button. Even better, you can add an LED array underneath and use it as a reconfigurable label for the button.

Last but not least, other technologies are adding intelligence to the process. For example, the company that now owns the T9 predictive text system, Nuance, is developing an extended version called XT9 which could help us type on touchscreens.

This not only predicts based on what you've already typed, says William Clement, the Nuance staffer in charge of marketing T9 in Europe, but it can also predict based on what you might have typed.

"With soft-keypads or on modified keypad layouts, people often hit the wrong key," he says. XT9 deals with that by widening its pattern-matching to include the possibility that you hit the wrong key, missed a key, or hit the right key once too often.

Of course, the specific errors that you can make will depend heavily on the layout of the keypad and will differ from device to device, Clement adds, so XT9 will need specific rules for each device or layout.

Still, it's not that long ago that the idea of using something the size of a mobile phone for tasks that you'd normally use a laptop for was laughable. Now, thanks to new user interface technologies such as these, the device manufacturers can talk of pocket computers - and nobody is laughing anymore.

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