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Mobile devices like smart phones, iPhone’s, tablets, and iPad’s, just to name a few, have made it possible to access the web from just about anywhere and anytime. As the web becomes more ubiquitous, so do these devices; people carry them around and access and interact with them often. These devices have become more mobile, interactive, and connected than ever before. iPhone’s and iPad’s exemplify the further shift towards simplicity, mobility, and connectivity of computing platforms.

One of the salient attributes of these devices that makes them so simple to interact with is touch capability. This capability is, in fact, essential for the ease of use and therefore, the utility of these devices while mobile. Touch is not only a compelling input modality for these mobile devices; it also drives new user experiences and engagement through interactivity, responsiveness, and simplicity.

Mobile and connected devices with multi-touch capabilities have become ideal platforms for gaming scenarios and increased interactivity. It has become common for users to play gaming apps on these devices in their spare time, even when they are on the go and have a couple minutes to spare. I often see people playing Fruit Ninja and Tetris in elevators , lobbies, or during lunch breaks, Traffic Rush or Angry Birds while waiting in checkout lines, Solitaire, Peggle, and Sudoku on bus and plane rides. Popular iPhone and Android gaming apps have high engagement, at times short-lived, and heightened interactivity; they are fun and entertaining. Tetris has over 100 million paid downloads, while Angry Birds has over 7 million and Fruit Ninja has over 2 million iPhone paid downloads. It is an easy choice to pay a few bucks for a game that can be taken and played anywhere.

Touch interactivity and the added bonus of portability on a device that is already used for making and receiving calls will make these games more popular on mobile phones than on handheld gaming devices. Can you slip your PlayStation Portable or Nintendo DS into your pant or coat pocket? If you really wish to carry your Sony or Nintendo handheld on you for ‘gaming-on-the-go’, you should perhaps consider getting yourself an utilikilt? But, wait — are there any limitations of touch on these mobile devices?

One of the problems, and therefore an opportunity, with touch interaction on mobile devices is the imprecise or approximate nature of the input modality. The so-called `fat finger problem’ extends beyond the problems of fingers being too wide to hit the desired contact point and users not being able to see what they are working on while touching the screen; consumer touch sensors lack the fidelity necessary to pick fingertip details at the contact point to increase precision of input. Combining the keyboard and screen has brought attention to this problem; however, the minuteness of display and imprecision of touch applies to all forms of input modalities–keyboards, icons, strokes, and movements.

Google recently acquired BlindType that allows users to simply start typing anywhere and their fingertip movements are recognized and typed into text. This enables users to type without having to look at the screens of their handhelds. Swype (founded by Cliff Kushler of T9 text-completion fame) uses a similar method of dragging the fingertip to each letter on the touch-screen keyboard instead of pecking each letter out to enter text. This process of registering strokes and movements of finger tips for multi-touch devices opens up a completely new form of interaction and feedback for user experience. Touch brings in a marked change in interaction design as it actively solicits feedback.

All natural interactions require learning. If movements, either in the form of touch or gestures, can be understood using machine learning and used for manipulating inputs and results, users can express themselves interactively and progressively refine what they are looking for. This two-way learning process, whereby the interface understands the user better and the user learns to interact with the interface more efficiently, becomes a natural and yet very powerful mode of communication; any data or information can be interactively molded to fit a perceptual model that best suits the user. This interactive process will increase ‘stickiness’ because user interactions are better modeled and understood over time and in effect, users will feel much `more connected’ to the device. The process, moreover, can be made fun and engaging as in most gaming apps. Touch happens to be one of the most powerful modalities of interaction as it transcends the spatially and temporally discrete nature of the keyboard and the spatial locality of the mouse.

How can we design products and services that will engage and encourage people to maximize their productivity though experiences that are tactile, kinesthetic, and interactive?

What do you say — “touché” or “pas de touché”?


Written by Pragyan Mishra

October 2, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Posted in Design, Technology

Tagged with , , , , , ,

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