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Making Fingers Work With Touch Screens

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the seeing-the-spot dept.

Input Devices 111

An anonymous reader writes "A paper was recently published about Shift at the Computer Human Interaction Conference earlier this month. The authors (Daniel Vogel, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and Patrick Baudisch, a research scientist at Microsoft Research) developed the technology to solve several problems with mobile-phone touch screens. Most such screens are designed to be operated with a stylus; when touched with a finger the UI doesn't work so well. They also created a short video with a demonstration of how Shift works. Shift builds on an existing technology known as Offset Cursor, which displays a cursor just above the spot a user touches on the screen. That allows a user to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger."

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Just Hire A Manicurist... (2, Insightful)

morari (1080535) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161789)

Then you'll be able to use your stylus-like fingernails, thus solving any such problems! :)

Re:Just Hire A Manicurist... (2, Interesting)

nostriluu (138310) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163841)

You laugh, but I used a fingernail with my Fujitsu B series notebook and SE P800.. just curve your pointing finger and use the nail.. it works quite well - accurate, and no finger grease. So I don't see what the big deal is.

Re:Just Hire A Manicurist... (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164623)

Touchscreens = GorillaArm

Touchscreen technology was proved faulty for continuous use many years ago ....

"An ergonomic problem of touchscreens is their stress on human fingers when used for more than a few minutes at a time, since significant pressure is required and the screen is non-flexible. The resulting condition is labeled "gorilla arm" because it makes the user feel clumsy. This can be alleviated with the use of a pen or other device to add leverage"

Programmers should study anatomy (1)

Simonetta (207550) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164781)

I'm always amazed that the people who design GUI user interfaces don't study anatomy or even have a basic understanding of the relationship between the screen elements and the body activities needed to interact with them.
    The most glaring example of this is ever-present and manifestly stupid Windows message box that appears right in the center of the screen at the wrong time and demands that you reposition the mouse pointer on it and click before continuing with your work. Inevitably the movement to reposition the cursor is outside the 15-20 lateral movement range of the wrist that is guiding the mouse which forces an upper arm movement that completely disrupts the mental concentration on the user's current task.
    Every time I bring up this issue to a programmer they give this look that resembles that of a monkey encountering his first music synthesizer. Windows makes it so 'easy' to deal with program exceptions by just slapping an error box in the center of the screen. But from the perspective of a user seriously engaged with using the software inactively, it is just so wrong and boneheaded. And, of course, since it was introduced in the Windows GUI, it tends to migrate into the Open Source GUIs as well.
    People who design interactive weaponry for a living spend a lot of time getting the interface between the solder's body movement and weapon response exactly right. In these situations, 100 millisecond intervals are critical.
    Would be that programmers started thinking in the same way. For more discussion in this area, I suggest the AskTog website.

FingLonger (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161813)

The prof already has this one sorted.

Re:FingLonger (2, Insightful)

andphi (899406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162207)

But he never actually invented it. He merely wondered what might happen if he invented it.

Re:FingLonger (0)

Kijori (897770) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163473)

He uses it in a later episode though, so I assume the what-if machine inspired him to invent it.

Re:FingLonger (1)

JensenDied (1009293) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163953)

This still doesn't solve the being able to see the cursor problem
The FingLonger just lets you hit the "Cancel or Allow" from another room.

Re:FingLonger (1)

Kijori (897770) | more than 7 years ago | (#19166145)

I didn't suggest it, I just pointed out a feature of a cartoon. The finglonger's not real. And even if it were, you'd still be replying to the wrong comment.

Counterintuitive (4, Insightful)

MankyD (567984) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161823)

So if I see a button the screen, I don't press the button; I press below the button. That seems rather counterintuitive, no? And how do I push stuff at the bottom of the screen?

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Informative)

excelsior_gr (969383) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161979)

Not exactly. You use your finger to browse on the screen. Just above your finger you will see the cursor. The article says that lifting your finger from the screen selects the item (even more counter-intuitive in my opinion). At least, it says that the cursor will be displayed only when necessary, i.e. if the item is big enough this function will not be activated.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

MankyD (567984) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162053)

The article says that lifting your finger from the screen selects the item (even more counter-intuitive in my opinion).

Yeah, I agree - this implies a dragging type motion is taking place. When I want to push a single button, I don't want to have to touch the screen, locate this little cursor with my eye, drag it into place, and then lift. I just want to push the button :P

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Insightful)

kat_skan (5219) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163485)

I think if I was going to do it, I'd make the buttons larger and align the label along the top. Your thumb wouldn't obscure the label, and you'd still be pressing the button instead of someplace vaguely in the vicinity of the button.

For widgets that are more information-dense--say a list of contacts in your address book--split the list into two columns and make the list items twice as tall.

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Informative)

grumbel (592662) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164171)

You can do exactly that with Shift, watching the video (linked in the article) helps to understand how it actually works.

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Insightful)

grumbel (592662) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164441)

The article says that lifting your finger from the screen selects the item (even more counter-intuitive in my opinion).

Thats not counter-intuitive, thats exactly how basically *every* GUI today works. When you press a button the action takes place not on mouse-button-down event, but on mouse-button-up. Shift uses the time in between down and up to present the user with a little zoomed view of what is under his finger so that he can fine tune his selection. Looks pretty intuitive and easy to understand for me. See the video [patrickbaudisch.com] .

My only problem with this is that it seems to be designed to fix issues that you might not have in the first place when the GUI would be properly designed to fit the device.

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Interesting)

jrumney (197329) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162043)

Its how the ticket machines at my local train station were working the other day. I almost bought a First Class single instead of Standard return, luckily I noticed that the price was slightly out before I put my card in, then figured out that there was a vertical offset on the touchscreen. A cursor might have helped alert me earlier, but its still counter intuitive.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162377)

If the touchscreen is not level with your eyeline, you will get an offset amount.
I only notice it when I rotate my tablet round and have to adjust the offsets slightly.

I can imagine overly tall/short people with a badly placed touchscreen ending up stooping or on tippytoes to balance out the effect.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162577)

If the touchscreen is not level with your eyeline, you will get an offset amount.

I've noticed that with some ATMs that still use CRT displays and place the touchscreen on a glass/plastic pane some distance from the screen. But these are new ticket machines with LCD touchscreens, and very little parallax effect normally. The machine was out of order the following day, so I think the touchscreen had slipped down half an inch or so.

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Informative)

inviolet (797804) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162211)

FTFS:

Shift builds on an existing technology known as Offset Cursor, which displays a cursor just above the spot a user touches on the screen. That allows a user to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger.

Am I the only one who read this and thought -- with a sigh -- that there was surely already an odious patent application filed for it?

"Method and Apparatus for Displaying a Cursor Below the Designated Location" -- with the following attached C++ code:

if (cursorY > 50) { cursorY -= 50; } . . .

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

anti-human 1 (911677) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163075)

No, you're not. I wasn't thinking a coded method, just a calibration method, however. I would hate to break this poor guys patent any time I mis-calibrated my Nintendo DS. Hopefully he'd be nice enough to not pursue a DMCA violation on his patent.

"He has 'Hacked' the firmware on his console to allow his touchscreen to perform tasks that infringe on my patent!"

Re:Counterintuitive (3, Informative)

pruss (246395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162227)

That is how Offset Cursor works. If you read the article, Shift is much better--it targets the area under the finger, but shows a circular callout of that area above the finger so it is not occluded. A variant even magnifies the area for higher precision. It actually looks really nice from the paper. I'd be tempted to make a PalmOS implementation, but I suspect it's being patented.

Now if only they could solve the problem of screens getting smudged by fingers. :-)

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

Matthew Bafford (43849) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163111)

Now if only they could solve the problem of screens getting smudged by fingers. :-)
Indeed. I don't really have a problem "tapping" on my iPAQ with my finger (more the nail), but I hate the smudges.

Re:Counterintuitive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19163353)

Or the bigger problem, smart phones smudged by ears. Yuck.

Anti-Smudging LTWS has already been patented (1)

mrops (927562) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163375)

Anti-Smudging, or rather quick smudge removal technology has already been patented.

I read a paper on LTWS (Lick Tongue Wipe Shirt)

Re:Anti-Smudging LTWS has already been patented (1)

Kijori (897770) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163543)

How do you lick your tongue? And why would you wipe your shirt?

Re:Anti-Smudging LTWS has already been patented (1)

0xABADC0DA (867955) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164277)

How do you lick your tongue? And why would you wipe your shirt?
It's obviously a machine translation from some asian language, probably Chinese. This arrangement of the four characters, Lick Tongue Wipe Shirt, actually means "screen clearing by licking your shirt then wiping the screen with the wet area". Not to be confused with Lick Tongue Wipe Shorts... which means something entirely different.

This is why these languages make zero sense to many Westerners, and why they often end up five dollah poorer when they visit.

Re:Counterintuitive (2, Informative)

pruss (246395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164013)

I emailed one of the researchers. Yes, the technology is being patented, unsurprisingly.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 7 years ago | (#19165121)

A non-obvious patent granted to an inventor in order to allow them a short-term monopoly in exchange for releasing the invention to the common domain at the end of the patent cycle, thus encouraging the inventor to release the idea with the understanding they'll be able to take full financial advantage of it?

This is BS! When oh when are they going to fix the system!

Re:Counterintuitive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19162271)

FTA:
"Shift, automatically displays an image on the screen above where users place their finger showing the area under the users' finger."

It isn't counterintuitive. It allows you to see what is UNDER your finger, so you know you're pressing the right button.

Now all that remains is to see if it works.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162321)

Did ANYONE Watch the fing video.

When you press a big button, the button is pressed, letting go confirms it, this is true of existing interfaces. When you press a small button a copy of what is under your finger is displayed in a circular window above or to the left or right (if your on an edge above won't always work) You can see what your finger is pressing exactly in this window, and then you can let go to confirm.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

MankyD (567984) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162553)

You're right. It took awhile for it for me to download (slow connection.) It appears as though you can use the interface like a normal touch screen but, if you want to click in a very controlled manner, you press, hold, and wait for a small, circular window to pop up showing you what your're trying to press. You can use that to make sure you're getting the exact region you want. Very impressive, actually.

Re:Counterintuitive (1)

roaddemon (666475) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163171)

Ever used a mouse? How counterintuitive is it to push a button on your desk while the cursor is 18" away? Seems to work fine for most people.

Oblig. Simpsons (5, Funny)

spocksbrain (1097145) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161831)

"The fingers you have used to dial are too fat. To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm now."

Re:Oblig. Simpsons (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161995)

"They call them 'fingers' but I never see them fing. Woah, there they go."

Re:Oblig. Simpsons (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162419)

Damn it! You beat me to it...

Re:Oblig. Simpsons (1)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162381)

"If you know the name of the felony being committed, press one. To choose from a list of felonies, press two. If you are being murdered or calling from a non-finger enabled phone, please stay on the line."

...fumbles with newfangled phone UI...

"You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one."

Makes me wonder about the iPhone (2, Interesting)

u-bend (1095729) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161837)

Ever since it was announced, I've been wondering how well its touch screen is actually going to perform in everyday use? Anyone had an opportunity to play with one of the demos for an extended period of time?

Re:Makes me wonder about the iPhone (1)

furball (2853) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163193)

Ask a waitress. Waiting staff at restaurants and country clubs have been using touch screen systems since the early 90's.

I know because I used to sell those systems to them. They work just fine.

Re:Makes me wonder about the iPhone (2, Informative)

viewtouch (1479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163727)

Wait staff at restaurants, bars and clubs have been using graphical touch screen systems since 1985.

I know because I created the first such system.

Re:Makes me wonder about the iPhone (1)

furball (2853) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163855)

Which touch detection mechanic were you using originally for them?

Re:Makes me wonder about the iPhone (2, Informative)

viewtouch (1479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164517)

I began experimenting with Infrared in 81-82, then resistive in 82-83 and capacitance in 84-85 before settling on that. In 86 I did the Comdex show and received two shoe boxes filled with business cards from people who wanted more information.

Building touchscreen systems was not easy or cheap in those days. Today we don't even need computers to put touchscreens in front of users - just a display with a wireless network connection.

offsets? (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161861)

So using an offset is going to help people who can't seem to hit the target in the first place?

Re:offsets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19162293)

So using an offset is going to help people who can't seem to hit the target in the first place?

Don't worry, taint a problem, Clippy will give you a guiding hand.

Re:offsets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19163065)

That's OK. Microsoft has solved that problem within Windows. For example:
You pressed '5'
phone: the digit you dialed was '3'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '3'
phone: the digit you dialed was '0'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '5'
phone: the digit you dialed was '5'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '5'
phone: the digit you dialed was '5'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '5'
phone: the digit you dialed was '5'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '5'
phone: the digit you dialed was '5'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '7'
phone: the digit you dialed was '7'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '8'
phone: the digit you dialed was '8'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '3'
phone: the digit you dialed was '6'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Cancel'
You pressed '3'
phone: the digit you dialed was '3'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
You pressed '0'
phone: the digit you dialed was '0'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
phone: the number you dialed was '(305) 555-7830'. [Cancel] [Allow]

And when you text message someone:
you pressed 'SMS'
phone: you selected 'SMS' button. [Cancel] [Allow]
you type 'D'
phone: the key you pressed was 'D'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 'e'
phone: the key you pressed was 'e'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 'a'
phone: the key you pressed was 'a'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 'r'
phone: the key you pressed was 'r'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type ' '
phone: the key you pressed was ' '. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 'A'
phone: the key you pressed was 'A'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 'u'
phone: the key you pressed was 'u'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 'n'
phone: the key you pressed was 'n'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
you type 't'
phone: the key you pressed was 't'. [Cancel] [Allow]
You pressed 'Allow'
phone: Dear Aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all

Re:offsets? (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164327)

Shift doesn't offset the cursor, you click where you click, it however allows you to fine tune the cursor position under your finger by showing the content under yoru finger in a small windows above your finger. The video linked in the article makes this rather clear.

That's intuitive (5, Funny)

shadow349 (1034412) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161863)

That allows a user to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger

Just like when I use a telephone, I hit the buttons next to the number I am looking to dial and when I park my car, I park next to the spot I want.

Re:That's intuitive (1)

figleaf (672550) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162003)

You seem have misunderstood.
Notice he talks about small points. Not large areas like big buttons.

Re:That's intuitive (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162369)

DO you also take you mouse and put it over the cursor on your screen "just to be sure that it's hitting the right link" or like the rest of us, do you move it around on your desk... offset by several dimensions from the virtual pointer on your screen. Are you saying that the mouse device is unintuitive?

Re:That's intuitive (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162941)

when I park my car, I park next to the spot I want.

What's wrong with that? This way you don't have to lift your car up to see what(or who) you smashed.

Fingernails to the rescue! (2, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161871)

Yeah, yeah, grooming experts tell you to trim your fingernails but why is it I always run into a problem where I need them right after I trim them? Yeah, yeah, that's what pocket knives are for. Anyways, with a small touchscreen like a Palm pilot, if you have just a wee bit of fingernail, you can poke the screen with that rather than pull out the stylus. The trick is to have just enough nail that you can do this but not so much that you look like Freddy Krueger. I suppose another way around it is to put a poking device on your pointer finger but that might get mistaken for a gom jabbar. Try getting THAT past the TSA at the airport!

Users can change too (1)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161933)

I've had a touchscreen in my car for years now for my PC, and I quickly learned to adjust some of my habits to it. Specifically, I:
1. Use my fingernails. No fancy glue on stylus or anything, but finger nails don't leave oily traces unless I've just finished gutting a whale by hand or something.
2. I do it palm facing towards me, pointed up. This keeps the contact area visible the whole time. If the computer were british, it might look like I was flipping it off, sure, but it works well.

When you have limited screen real-estate (like on MP3 players and phones), there isn't a lot of room for fancy hacks like what the article suggests. I'm pretty sure customers will meet the technology half way by necessity if nothing else.

This is killefit for retarded consumer whores... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19161953)

My mom operates her mobile-phone by throwing it into the corner until someone calls her.

She doesn't need such lets-bloat-our-product-to-become-even-less-useable -crap.

I don't like mobile-phones because some people use them as excuse to open and shut their vocal-a**hole even more.

Even in church!

Not how it works (3, Informative)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161969)

From TFS:

Shift builds on an existing technology known as Offset Cursor, which displays a cursor just above the spot a user touches on the screen. That allows a user to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger."
from TFA:

The Microsoft Research project, called Shift, automatically displays an image on the screen above where users place their finger showing the area under the users' finger. The image is circular and includes a small X. By toggling the tip of the finger, users can move the X to place it on top of the item they want to choose. Lifting the finger from the screen selects the item.
You still click where you point with your finger. The system just shows you a small "virtual" image of what is under your finger at the moment and also a virtual cursor for where your click will be registered. The virtual cursor allows for more fine grained control.

Re:Not how it works (1)

Tacvek (948259) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163717)

Offset cursor works in the way described in TFS.

The much smarter "SHIFT" technology shows a circle near (presumably normally above) showing a view of exactly what is being targeted. The view may optionally be magnified (depends on implementation and possibly user options). That is the tech TFA is describing.

Both are correct, but as usual, TFS is misleading.

It'll throw me off (3, Insightful)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 7 years ago | (#19161983)

Humans didn't grow up pressing below what they want. When I go to dial my desk phone I don't press just below the buttons. It's assumed in my brain that I will be covering up what I want. The problem I see is the size of a stylus vs size of a finger. If you cram buttons close together my finger won't be able to resolve which one I'm actually trying to press. But the same is true of real buttons (Simpsons and the dialing wand).

Not that we can't learn. Just as spear fishers learned to take into account the refractive index of water when fishing. I'm sure it took a while, but after the learning period I'm sure it's second nature to aim X below what I want to kill.

I'm interested in seeing how Apple solved this problem with the iPhone

Re:It'll throw me off (4, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162051)

I'm interested in seeing how Apple solved this problem with the iPhone

It's amazing how much simpler everything is with only one button...

Re:It'll throw me off (1)

amper (33785) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163465)

I'm interested in seeing how Apple solved this problem with the iPhone

It's simple, really, which is why Apple is of course the only company that gets it. Make the buttons fit the finger.

http://www.apple.com/iphone [apple.com]

Re:It'll throw me off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19164195)

The whole point of this new system is that you press where the button *is*. You keep your normal pointing accuracy, it's just that your finger may not be precise enough and there may be more than one control under it.

If, when you press the touchscreen, there's more than one target beneath your finger, a balloon pops out from under your finger and in the balloon is an image of what your finger is covering. Also in the balloon is a crosshair cursor. Then you just rock your finger to move the crosshairs to select what you wanted. Take a look at the video, the whole system is beautiful!

Re:It'll throw me off (1)

gregoryb (306233) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164749)

I'm interested in seeing how Apple solved this problem with the iPhone

This might not be used on the iPhone, but I'm sure we'll see this eventually... Apple's invisible interface [core77.com] .

I thought the trick to spear fishing is... (1)

fortiguy (956443) | more than 7 years ago | (#19165505)

to dip the end of the spear under water to cancel that refractive difference.

But then what do I know? I've only watched a few seasons of survivor.

Re:It'll throw me off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19167305)

But your telephone keypad is of an extremely low resolution compared to a touch screen, 3x4 "pixels" over an area that gives plenty of room for error. Plus with years of conditioning you're probably already an accomplished touch keypad'ist. Numerous applications have been implemented over the years using that same fixed input device.

The same area on a touch screen has hundreds if not thousands of times more pixels, and it's unlikely that any two applications are going to use the exact same button layout for their input ... even two apps that require text input may present their own individual keyboards since the look will be customizable. Nevermind those that will throw usability to the wind and try to cram in way too many closely spaced buttons.

or you could... (2, Interesting)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162149)

tip the screen around [technologyreview.com] all willy-nilly like. it'd be fun for emulating those old tilt-the-thingy-and-get-the-ball-in-the-whole games.

Is this 'Offset Cursor' patented? (1)

renesch (1016465) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162155)

If so, keep your existing touch-screen-enabled gadgets calibrated, else...

GUI / Hardware design (4, Interesting)

Dan East (318230) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162283)

This is interesting, because I've been working on finger touch based UIs of late. I've come to a few conclusions:

The touchscreen for many devices is physically designed for use with a stylus. They require quite a bit of force to register, and it is difficult to apply that much pressure with a finger because of the amount of surface area contacted. The DELL Axim touchscreens work particularly well with finger touch, while others, like the Asus a716, do not.

GUI Design is critical. Microsoft's history with mobile devices has been to make them as much like Windows 95 (and up) as possible. Windows CE 1.0 was exactly like Windows 95. Although with Pocket PC (CE 3.0) they tried to follow Palm's dominant (at that time) lead, and simplify the GUI, it is still most conducive to mouse / stylus input. The iPhone is a perfect example of how to design a GUI for finger based input. The multi-touch hardware capability is not even an issue at this point - pure software design is responsible for the bulk of the usability.

Along those lines, Microsoft prefers static dialogs that show as much information at once as possible, requiring small, desktop-like controls that demand precision stylus input. The iPhone is dynamic, scrolling in new options as the user make selections. Thus they have room for large, finger-sized buttons, because the display changes constantly. Many controls, like scrollbars, are unnecessary because entire display areas (like lists) can simply be dragged and tossed, which is the most natural behavior in the first place. The scrollbar then becomes only a visual indicator, which can even be hidden when the user is not interacting with the screen.

I've put together some code that behaves like the iPhone's drag interface, both in 2D for rectangular regions, and 1D for lists. It works really well on the Axim, again, because its touchscreen is nice and sensitive, even when retrofitted to existing Windows List controls. So it obviously is not a matter of hardware, but GUI design, that Windows Mobile isn't conducive to touch input.

So basically, this article is not stating the real problem, which is that MS is completely missing the mark with the fundamentals of their mobile GUI. But instead it offers a clumsy hack to work around an improperly designed UI. The ironic thing is Shift's Offset Cursor doesn't work at the bottom of the screen. That area is the most important for user interaction, because controls are strategically placed their so the user's fingers (hand / stylus) conceal as little extraneous area of the display as possible. That is why onscreen keyboards are always at the bottom, which makes them inaccessible to this Shift hack. The article fails to mention that little detail too.

Dan East

Re:GUI / Hardware design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19162529)

"MS is completely missing the mark"

You obviously didn't watch the video. You say it doesn't work at the bottom of the screen, but it clearly does. This is much more than just an offset cursor, and that's the point.

Even with flawless UI design, there are going to be targets that are hard to hit. In the video they gave an example of a google map with small squares representing, uh, stores or interesections or whatnot. Whadya going to do?

I'm very hard to impress when it comes to technology, and even harder to impress when it comes to Microsoft, but I think they hit a home run here.

The problem is, there _will_ be targets that are difficult to hit, and there _will_ be targets at the bottom of the screen, so how do we solve that? Their solution is to provide a magnified (?) view of what is under the finger so that once you touch what you *think* is the target, you get actual visual feedback. And if you're wrong (because the target is small, your finger is large, the device isn't calibrated properly, etc) you can shift your finger slightly to get fine grained control. Really slick!

This definitely one of those things that looks obvious (to me, anyway) in hindsight, but is truly something that deserves a patent (except for the whole morality thing about technology that makes products better ought to be shared by all).

Re:GUI / Hardware design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19162847)

FTA: "Because Offset Cursor displays the cursor above the finger, it can't be used to choose icons at the bottom of the screen."

If your fingers are too fat to dial the phone... (1)

fortiguy (956443) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162573)

... please mash the keyboard with your hand.

I am a tech writer and deal with GUIs every day.
I agree on your points about not working at the bottom of the screen being a big issue. Not only are controls placed so you can see the screen when using them, on a cell phone your thumbs/fingers are easier to use with controls placed closer to the keypad as your hand is holding the center or center-bottom of the phone. I'm surprised that the target can't (at least not yet) flip its targeted zone based on the area of the screen - too close to the left edge? flip it to the right!

That said, this is a move in the right direction. I'm curious if it can change the size of the circle based on the pressure area - ie. if my kid brother is using a pinky finger, or if my fat cousin is using his thumb. The first is near stylus in size, where the latter might cover a quarter of the screen.

Not all digits are created equal!

Start (1)

loafula (1080631) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162339)

my windows start button won't work!!

Fp trollkorZe (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19162427)

New Smart Phone... (1)

lamarguy91 (1101967) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162443)

... with Windows Mobile 6:

User: (Touches 4 key)
Phone: You have touched the 4 key. Allow?
User: (presses yes button)
Phone: You have touched the yes button. Allow?
User: (presses yes button)
Phone: You originally pressed the 4 key. Were you pressing the 4 key, or using our new counter-intuitive software that would allow you to really be pressing the 1 key?
User: (touches the 4 key in response)
Phone: You have touched the 4 key again. Allow?
User: (presses yes button)
Phone: Please stop picking on the 4 key. It doesn't like being touched like that.

Re:New Smart Phone... (1)

Tacvek (948259) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164355)

While amusing!

Thankfully WM6 ("Crossbow") is mostly a set of graphical improvements on WM5, with a few programs redesigned for nicer interface etc. Overall, the difference between WM5 AKU 3.5 and WM 6 is AFAICT much smaller than the difference between WM5 AKU 1.0 and WM5 AKU 3.5.

I mean the big changes are:
Impoved Outlook Mobile allowing HTML formated mail, and in the caledar section, an new "calandar ribbon" interface
Replacing the integrated "MSN" suite with a "Windows Live" suite. (Noticeably improved is the IM client, which now sports many of the features of the desktop client).
Improved versions of the Office Mobile apps, giving additional features.
etc.

And several of those could hardly be called improvements, as for example the windows Live software runs just fine on WM5. The Improved Office Mobile and Outlook mobile probably run fine on WM5 also, but Microsoft does not distribute those separately, unlike the Windows Live suite.

The biggest change is the new "Windows Update" feature. That probably required some changes to the Core OS. The Windows Update feature will allow improvements to the integrated applications to be downloaded without requiring upgrading the ROM, which implies a hard reset. The changes are likely saved to normal storage rather than editing the ROM in-place, meaning the changes would be lost with a hard reset, but on the other hand, being able to get bug fixes or even new features added without a hard reset is a very promising sounding feature. I hope it gets used well.

The Headline is Backwards (1)

TobyRush (957946) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162629)

Shouldn't it be "Making Touch Screens Work With Fingers"?

The headline makes it sound like they've figured out how to make those pesky humans more compatible with the touch screen technology. Granted, most handheld operating systems involve the computer and the user meeting each other halfway, but this headline made me envision plastic surgery to make fingers more pointy...

Making Fingers Work With Microsoft Touch Screens (1)

planetfinder (879742) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163385)

I believe that the title is correct and appropriate because
Microsoft's generic approach is to leave no options to customers other than to do it the Microsoft
way with Microsoft proprietary solutions without regard for the
relative quality of the Microsoft solution

The fully expanded version of the title would be Making Fingers Work With Microsft-Touch-Screen (TM).
Since the likely presumption is that all are most touch screens will be driven by Microsoft
software the original title works well.
The word combination "touch screen" or something even more generic will shortly be a
Microsoft proprietary name/phrase/word combination.

Re:The Headline is Backwards (1)

ranjix (892606) | more than 7 years ago | (#19166071)

yeah, but then you miss on the soviet russia joke opportunity. I'm afraid even my comment will generate a ton of soviet russia jokes.. I'm afraid even the comment to the comment will generate...

Poor thought process... (1)

Karganeth (1017580) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162641)

That allows a user to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger"
Would the user not have already decided to press whichever button? When pressing something, I don't need to see what I am pressing as I have already decided what to press. The only thing setting it so a user must press below a button will do is create confusion.

Re:Poor thought process... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19162749)

The summary is incorrect, and you obviously didn't RTFA.

You press *on* the target. If the target is very small or if you hold your finger down you'll get a magnified view of what is under your finger so you get visual feedback. You can then shift your finger around to precisely tap on whatever you want.

Remember, folks, Reading is Fundamental!

Re:Poor thought process... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19163659)

It's about feedback. Touch screens provide no tactile feedback. If you use your finger you also lose visual feedback. Without feedback, the accuracy of an interface plummets into uselessness.

Re:Poor thought process... (1)

viewtouch (1479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164061)

One technique I invented 20 years ago seems to work well. I always made the touchbutton enough bigger than the finger that you could always see it, and as soon as you touched it a graphical effect made it seem like a light within the touchbutton had been turned on. We had red lights, green lights, blue lights and yellow lights. That was on the Atari, with 16 colors available, in 1985-6. I see this effect in use worldwide today.

I created a lot of other such effects to make graphical touchscreen guis work. I had tabbed browsing. People are still claiming they just invented this. I had virtually all of the effects that people seem to think Apple just invented. It's a hoot reading all this, I have to say. Direct manipulation of the touchscreen gui is more than 2 decades old.

Oh, and yes, some touchscreens do provide feedback. Search google for haptic or tactile touchscreen.

An existing technology known as "Offset Cursor" (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162785)

Here is the full source code dump for the implementation of the "Offset Cursor Technology":


mousePos.setY(mousePos.y()-20);


If you are planning to use this technology in your own software, please contact the Microsoft Research to purchase the appropriate licenses.

Re:An existing technology known as "Offset Cursor" (1)

powermacx (887715) | more than 7 years ago | (#19162989)

Only if you want the cursor to fly to the top of the screen every time you lift your finger...

I was actually hoping (1)

Gorkamecha (948294) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163055)

This was an article on finding a way to work with convention show style touch screens. My fingers, for whatever reason, don't seem to always register as a touch on touch screens. I'm not sure if my skin is too thin, or not conductive enough (or too much?). A few of my coworkers have the same problem. Does anyone else have this problem, and have they found some sort of device to counter it? Pen tops, and Stylus' don't react with this particular sort of screen, unfortunately.

Re:I was actually hoping (1)

viewtouch (1479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164197)

This difficulty is caused by the fact that you are using capacitance touchscreens and your hand is dead. Well, actually, the capacitance characteristic of your finger is significantly outside the range of the firmware setting in the controller that you are not creating enough 'disturbance' in the conductive current flowing across the screen.

Surface acoustic wave touchscreens would not have this failing. The latest capacitive touchscreen controllers would probably not have this problem. Resistive touchscreens and Infrared touchscreens would not have this problem.

One way to solve the inadequacy of your finger's capacitance 'signature' is to grab on to a wet naked woman with your other arm. This will increase your whole body's capacitance signature to the point where the capacitance controller will be able to sense the disturbance that your finger's capacitance signature causes.

Re:I was actually hoping (1)

DeadCatX2 (950953) | more than 7 years ago | (#19165311)

One way to solve the inadequacy of your finger's capacitance 'signature' is to grab on to a wet naked woman with your other arm.

Where exactly are you grabbing this "wet naked woman"?

For that matter, where do you expect a slashdotter to find one?

Re:I was actually hoping (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#19166827)

No, no, it's perfectly slashdot. The people that follow his advice will have a wet naked woman conveniently at hand, yet concentrate entirely on making the touchscreen work.

This is just silly. (1)

bitRAKE (739786) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163369)

Between calibration errors and finger size I've just learnt what size objects are worth fingering on my Toughbook screen. Only when dragging does the hand remain in the way - I typically use my nail with my palm facing me for precise placement in Visio or selection of text. If I have to take my hand off the keyboard then a quick tap on the screen can get the pointer within a few pixels. Precision on a small screen is no different - just less useful in general. Adaptive software seems a better avenue - think of how easy text selection is because of auto-word boundaries. Does anyone else find it difficult to use a touchpad one handed? How about for a drag operation?

awww.... (1)

x_bob (1084907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163535)

I thought they were talking about chocolate fingers :(

Free tip for Windows Mobile (2003) devices (1)

mikiN (75494) | more than 7 years ago | (#19163613)

Backup _all_ your data, then do a hard reset. When the screen calibration drill appears, make sure you tap some distance _below_ the markers. Next you have time to practice the new input method with the cut'n'paste drill and while you install <insert your favorite mouse cursor drawing utility>. Viola!

Re:Free tip for Windows Mobile (2003) devices (1)

initialE (758110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164637)

You _do_ know that you can recalibrate your screen without doing a hard reset don't you?

Hard to use finger? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19164087)

Its been a while I dont have a PDA, but a few years ago when I used to work with one all day I always used it with my finger and it worked perfectly, so good I rarely bothered to pull the Stylus.
Im not sure if Im missing something here...

After using touch screens for over 10 years now, (1)

NeuroManson (214835) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164149)

In most touch screens, the best way to use it is to press with your fingernails. Seriously. Lightly press with your fingernails, and the response will be at least 90% dead on. I'm not talking "Lee Press On Nails" length nails, just enough to protrude at least a half millimeter beyond the end of your finger. The keratin is an excellent conductor, and works as well as a PDA stylus in many cases.

Ironic that the most common biological factor that could aid in an electronic interface is the one most people cut to the quick out of sociologically enforced hygiene, despite its minimal worth in a hygienic setting for most people.

After using touch screens for over 25 years now (1)

viewtouch (1479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164391)

It depends on what the touchscreen technology is, to some extent. I would recommend against using fingernails. What I would recommend is that when you put your finger on the display, make your touch something that is not so much of a 'poke' as a 'touch'. Seriously, don't poke and get your finger off as fast as you can - make a gentle but slightly longer lasting touch to the display and it will work much better. A touch is actually an average of multiple readings taken when you touch the screen. The slightly longer lasting touch will give the controller more information to work with and result in a more reliable result.

Re:After using touch screens for over 10 years now (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#19167119)

There's practical issues as well. For instance, if you let your nails go, typing gets weird. You have to move your wrists back and down, putting stress on the wrists to compensate for the nails, or you have to accept that you won't have soft fingertips hitting the keys. This gets old really quick.

Plus, if you do anything useful with your hands, you're gonna get gunk under there. Which you have to clean out unless you're a gross slob. And the longer the nails are, the harder that is.

Shouldn't this be... (1)

kopo (890010) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164211)

"Making Touchscreens Work With Fingers"?

I'd hate to think what kinds of surgery our digits would require to make them as effective as a regular stylus...

Make the UI work with fingers, not the other way (1)

bestinshow (985111) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164609)

A finger-driven user interface should require, as a core feature, that the user interface did not present to the user buttons or other selectable entities that are too small to mash with a finger.

Once you've designed with that requirement in mind, the need for this software becomes rather moot.

Now maybe for something like an on-screen keyboard you have an issue, because you can't fit many finger-pressable keys in that. Apple's iPhone however enlarges the key as you press it, and this solution would slow you down on each keypress as you rock in a direction to select the correct key.

Other people have already pointed out that most people use a fingernail after a while for accuracy anyway, rather than hitting with the fleshy bit of the finger tip.

This is sad. (3, Insightful)

viewtouch (1479) | more than 7 years ago | (#19164883)

The application for a patent on this saddens me. I have had thousands of conversations in the past 25 years during which I have freely discussed all kinds of touchscreen GUI issues. Some of the conversations were about touchscreen GUI effects that I had created and some of them were about effects that would obviously make the operation of the touchscreen easier.

I had many conversations over the years dealing with this specific issue, of using the magnifying glass effect on the GUI to display the area occluded by the finger. I didn't implement this effect because I have not been doing much work on displays with a diagonal measurement of 2 to 3 inches, but it is an effect that was often the subject of conversations I've had with many people and even in some lectures I've given.

I'm sad to see that somebody has now decided to patent something that has been a common topic of touchscreen GUI conversations for many years. The patent can hardly be considered non-obvious. It could well be that the two people involved here, one a student, one a microsoft employee, are simply ignorant of the basic design issues of graphical touchscreen GUI's.

I would go so far as to say that this patent application is morally reprehensible, right up there in league with patents on seeds that have been around since the dawn of time.

Re:This is sad. (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#19166735)

I know that with a 4 digit UID this can't be the case, but I'm just compelled to say...

You must be new here.

And, yes, it is pretty stupid - unless the inventor is (a) young and (b) has had no contact with other experts in the field, in which case he may think it quite novel. He'd be wrong, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything in the patent process, apparently.

After watching the video... (1)

johndierks (784521) | more than 7 years ago | (#19165693)

I watched the video [microsoft.com] and was interested by the response times they graphed at the end. Standard touch screen had lower response times in almost every case. In fact, shift was only more faster in one case.

Sure maybe you might miss a small target the first time with a standard touch screen, but it's not rocket science to try again.

I can see this being useful where targets are very small, and very densely packed on the screen.

Home Depot's Horibble Self-Checkout (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 7 years ago | (#19166219)

A little off-topic, but has anyone used Home Depot's self-checkout lanes? Just bought a house so I'm there a lot :( It's probably the same everywhere, but the item scanner is a good 2 feet away from the card reader, which isn't well integrated. You find yourself going back and forth sometimes and inappropriate selections such as payment type are actually on the item scanner. It's a very hacked-together system, probably since they wanted to recycle existing card readers.

The classic card-readers need their UI's redesigned as well. Do I really need to be funnelled through the "cash back" options every time I buy something (which I use about 1% of the time)? Especially when there's a long delay with no feedback and I've already pocketed my card. So annoying!
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