Friday, June 6, 2014

Display Week Touch Poll Shows Surprising Disconnects Between Industry Direction and User Preference

During Monday’s Seminar, “Issues, Insights, and Interactions on Touch HMI,”  by Geoff Walker and Gary Barrett), the speakers asked the audience the questions listed below. The audience responded by raising their hands. Because of the size of the audience (134 people), exact answer counts weren’t possible, so estimates were made. (Before the questions started, the speakers made everyone in the audience raise their hand as a warm-up exercise, which helps increase audience participation in the polls.)

1.    Question:  Which would you rather do: (a) Hover your finger above the screen to view choices and then touch to select, or (b) Press lightly to view choices and then press harder to select?
Answer: Hover = 1/3; Pressure = 2/3

All the p-cap touch controller suppliers are implementing (or have already implemented) hover as the industry’s preferred solution to the need for mouseover emulation, since nobody has successfully developed absolute pressure-sensing for p-cap yet. This audience response shows a definite preference for pressure sensing, which is not where the industry is headed.

2.    Question:  For those of you that write Kanji characters on a smartphone screen, how many of you are comfortable using your fingers, and how many would prefer to use a stylus? 
Answer:  Fingers = two people; Stylus = the great majority

This answer was quite surprising, since the speakers were under the impression that Asian users are generally happy using their fingers to write Kanji characters on a smartphone, particularly since the software suggests characters based on partial input (the same way that English words are suggested based on partial input using an onscreen keyboard). This answer strongly supports the idea that use of a stylus (probably a passive stylus) is likely to move into the mainstream.

3.    Question:  Are you more likely to want a stylus on a smartphone or a tablet?
Answer:  Smartphone = almost nobody; Tablet = almost everybody

Taking notes, making sketches and drawings, using a stylus as a high-precision pointing device – all of these activities make more sense on a tablet than a smartphone, so the audience’s preference is easily understandable.

4.    Question:  Do you see a need for simultaneous stylus and touch?
Answer:  Yes = 25%; No = 75%

Microsoft is working hard on enabling simultaneous stylus and touch (which is not a native capability of Windows 8), but most people don’t see a need for it (yet), probably because of the lack of an obvious consumer application.    

5.    Question:  How many of you are completely satisfied with the way touch works today on your smartphone and tablet?
Answer:  Zero people held up their hand.

This audience response was stunning. The fact that nobody is completely satisfied with touch today really brings into question the common OEM/ODM practice of supplying touch that’s “good enough.” Clearly “good enough” isn’t.

6.    Question:  Who has more impact on touch, Windows/Microsoft or Android/Google?
Answer:  Windows/Microsoft = 6 people; Android/Google = everybody else

While this is not a very surprising audience response, the speakers pointed out that Microsoft has had quite a large influence on the touch industry over time due to the fact that it has set a lot of technical specifications on touch.

7.    Question:  Has anyone seen a demo of a flexible touchscreen on top of a flexible OLED display?
Answer:  Zero people held up their hand.

Everyone has seen demos of flexible OLED displays, and everyone has seen demos of flexible touchscreens (for example, built on Corning’s 100-µm Willow glass). But nobody in the audience (or the speakers) has seen the two combined yet.  It’s not clear if the reason is a technical impediment, or simply the lack of a real-world application.

8.    Question:  How many of you have seen a tablet that has a passive stylus with a 1.5 mm tip instead of today’s big, ugly, uncomfortable 7 mm rubber tip?
Answer:  Eight people held up their hand

All of the p-cap touch-controller suppliers have increased their signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) to the point where you can now touch with a very fine-tipped passive stylus.  In fact, on the show floor Sharp was demonstrating a 22-inch touch p-cap touchscreen that worked perfectly with a #2 pencil. The problem is that very few OEMs have rolled out products that offer this capability so far. By the end of this year, that situation should have changed significantly. The photo below shows a section of Sharp’s 22-inch touchscreen with two #2 pencils. – Geoff Walker

Sharp’s 22-inch touchscreen (using one of Sharp’s new series of p-cap touch controllers) works with a #2 pencil as the touch-object. Interestingly, one of the two pencils shown on the display even worked with the eraser (not just the pencil tip), probably because it was worn down more than the other one. Photo by author.

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