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Peek into upcoming UI trends in handsets

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:resistive stylus replacement? waterproofing? hover functionality?

One of the major driving forces of innovations in touchscreen technology is the need to improve the user experience. The introduction of projected capacitance touchscreen devices from the older resistive style paved the way for a new world of options and a vastly improved interface for users. Projected capacitive technology enables unlimited multitouch interfaces with gesturing for a smooth and seamless user experience. Mobile device manufacturers have recognized the benefits to a user interface (UI) powered by capacitive touch, and most handheld devices deliver touch performance at a level that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Now, engineers and developers focus on faster response times, better accuracy, and higher signal-to-noise ratios (SNR) to provide a more innovative user experience (UX) in their products.

However, touchscreens need more than just touch to stand out. Delivering a better user experience means providing advanced features that solve known problems and help to make these devices easier and more intuitive to operate for the end consumer. It also helps manufacturers differentiate their products in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. What kind of features could provide that kind of experience? What issues have consumers been asking device makers to solve? Three capabilities trending in today's market are support for a resistive stylus replacement (RSR), waterproofing, and hover functionality. Some of these features have already started to appear in mobile devices, and are providing real world benefits to the end user. By incorporating these features into their handsets, OEMs can deliver a truly advanced UI C one that goes beyond just touch.

Stylus support is not exactly new to capacitive touchscreens, but the problem with the vast majority of current technology is that the sensor can only read input from a big, bulky device that mimics the size and capacitance of a finger. The controller won't register input from anything smaller than a touch. The large form factor of these styli make it impossible to clearly see your input on the screen, so completing delicate tasks, manipulating detailed navigation interfaces, or writing in script or Asian character sets becomes very difficult and increases the likelihood of error. Consumers don't want to be forced to use a thick, clunky stylus like those currently available for use with today's capacitive touch phones C they want the accuracy and slim form factor of a resistive-style 1 mm tip stylus. Most touchscreen controllers currently support stylus sizes at a 3mm tip and larger, making accuracy and portability difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Figure 1 illustrates the difference in functionality with an actual, side-by-side comparison of a resistive style, 1 mm tip stylus, and a traditional capacitive stylus. It's easy to see how the smaller stylus makes detailed tasks easier to complete with its slim form factor and tiny tip.

 stylus

Figure 1: Here's an actual comparison of a resistive-style, 1 mm tip stylus, and a traditional capacitive stylus.

Waterproofing capability addresses a very real need in a user's daily life. In the real world, we use our devices in the rain, with wet or sweaty fingers, or in humid environments that cause condensation; and we want the touchscreen to work properly in all of these conditions. However, water on the surface of a touchscreen can significantly impact performance in a variety of ways, from creating phantom touches to impacting accuracy. In some products, water can irreversibly corrupt the mutual capacitance system, requiring a hard reboot. It can even make the screen freeze or become completely non-responsive when a user tries to wipe it clean of water. Fully waterproof devices like digital cameras and even some mobile phones C ones that can be operated even while totally immersed in water C are already starting to appear on the market in limited quantities, and manufacturers need to stay competitive if they are to increase or even keep market share. The ability to design truly waterproof devices that meet IP-67 standards provides users with an unmatched level of robustness, and allows OEMs to keep up with this market trend.

Hover capability is on the cutting edge of touchscreen technology. The importance of hover is rising quickly among major operating systems, and all current indicators point to this function becoming a major market trend in the next year or two. Hover enables real performance with heavy gloves, or long fingernails C two problems that have been historically difficult to solve for touchscreen manufacturers. Because the capacitance of a finger decreases in proportion to its distance from the sensor, it is difficult to detect the position of a finger through layers of fabric or at the greater distances enforced by long fingernails. Hover solves this issue by being able to accurately and consistently detect the position of hovering fingers, and other objects, even with 10 mm of glove insulation.

Mouseover capability can be designed into handsets using hover for a user to magnify parts of the screen, like hyperlinks or keys on an on-screen keyboard, by hovering over them, then using a direct input device for precise selection. That kind of function also has implications for portable media players, such as previewing a song or a video trailer by hovering over the title before direct selection; or mobile gaming applications, by enabling entirely new features and commands that can be launched via hover input. Additionally, mobile device manufacturers are already working to incorporate emerging 3D display technologies in handsets. Here, hover could allow you to navigate through multiple open applications on a 3D display. Users could bring different applications to the forefront of the screen, while other open applications are still visible behind it. As this type of display becomes more prevalent, hover will enable users to effectively manipulate screen elements for a whole new world of functionality.

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