Devices can at times be a barrier to communication, as well as an obstacle to interacting with, and consuming content. How much of a barrier is down to form, and software.
A little while ago I mentioned to a colleague that I think something like 90% of all mobile phones (devices) will be touch-screen in the near future. This was something I had previously thought unlikely, but there are ways to improve touch-screen technology that are yet to be made commercially available, and Nokia are aiming to bring them to us…
The iPhone is already in the hands of many, and we’ve had other touchscreen phones for years, including the Sony Ericsson P-series, the Motorola A1000 and other Symbian UIQ devices. The stylus-pen proved quite successful, but not really a great experience if it is the only input device available… it’s easy to lose, awkward to hold and acts as a single point input only. The iPhone (for one) has shown this is not necessarily the best way to go, providing for a more natural input device – your fingers. Multi-touch, accelerometers for rotation detection and other gadgetry bring the technology into a more user-friendly plane where we can think less about how we communicate with the device itself and more about what we are using it for in the first place.
Here’s a video showing the touchscreen concept Nokia for 2008:
So touchscreen in its current form is relatively successful, but it can be greatly improved. First of all screens are no longer prohibitively expensive and power-hungry. And for several years people have been claiming patents on tactile touchscreen feedback. That is, a touch screen that will give you the sensation that you are touching a surface that changes under your fingertip, to give the feel of a button, a slider, anything you can visualise on screen. Nokia released a press release today outlining some of their plans in this area. From the release:
“S60 touch user interface comes with support for tactile feedback, which means that there is a physical pulse and feedback when the user taps on the screen.”
There’s a few methods for doing this, ranging from electrical impulses to the fingertip to vibrations to physically altering the surface of the screen’s relief using a current. Either way it provides you with enough feedback to feel like you are really interacting with what you see on screen, and can even lead to you being able to do things you could do before touchscreen, like write a text message or change tracks without looking at what you are doing.
Combined with sensors (such as those found in the Wii remote), we can get an even more natural and intuitive experience. Another quote from the release:
“From motion and orientation to proximity and light, sensor technology is expanding to new areas and shaping the future for mobiles. S60 brings sensor support to the platform as a generic solution enabling support for a range of sensors in S60 devices”
No doubt Nokia have been cooking up prototypes with these features for some years, but hopefully devices like the Wii-mote, DS and iPhone/iPod Touch have shown that consumers are ready for these technological shifts, and that the technology itself has matured enough for it not to be considered just a gimmick.
Interestingly Nokia had an involvement in the previous touchscreen enabled mobile operating system UIQ, being a 47.9% owner of British software company Symbian who develops the underlying operating system Symbian OS. Nokia also released a UIQ device in the 6708 (2005), but later gave up the reigns to concentrate on Series 40 through 90, leaving Sony Ericsson to it. Strangely Sony Ericsson yesterday revealed plans to sell half of UIQ to Motorola in a joint venture to further the development of the UIQ platform. It will be interesting to see what features are made available to these two platforms, both being built on a similar base.
I’m not saying I think all devices will be touch-screen in future, in fact I am saying that in all likelihood, they will not. But the more layers you remove from getting input to output, the more natural the experience becomes and the more ubiquitous the computing. Transparency is key, but some people take this more literally than others (video).
Read the press release here.
Any comments on the subject of touchscreen, multi touch and the future of devices appreciated.
There’s a better video over at Gizmondo. They also mention one possible use of the sensors being the ability to silence an incoming call by flipping the phone on its face, very natural I think.