The User Interface Paradigm Shift

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 by Ville-Veikko Helppi

Touchscreens are quickly changing the world around us. When clicking on an image, a touchscreen requires much less thinking and more user intuition. Touchscreens are also said to be the fastest pointing method available, but that isn’t necessarily true – it all depends on how the user interface is structured. For example, most users accept a ten millisecond delay when scrolling with cursor and mouse, but with touchscreens, this same period of time feels much longer so the user experience is perceived as not as smooth. Also, multi-touch capabilities are not possible with mouse emulations, at least, not as intuitively as with a touchscreen. The industry has done a good job providing a screen pen or stylus to assist the user when selecting the right object on smaller screens, thus silencing the critics of touchscreens who say it’s far from ideal as a precise pointing method.

The touchscreen has changed the nature of UI (user interface) element transitions. When looking at motions of different UI elements, these transitions can make a difference in device differentiation and if implemented properly tell a compelling story. Every UI element transition must have a purpose and context as it usually reinforces the UI elements. Something as simple as buffers are effective at giving a sense of weight to a UI element – and moving these types of elements without a touchscreen would be awkward. For UI creation, the best user experience can be achieved when UI element transitions are natural and consistent with other UI components (e.g., widgets, icons, menus) and deliver a solid, tangible feel of that UI. Also, the 3D effects during the motion provide a far better user experience.

3D layouts enable more touchscreen friendly user interfaces.

Recent studies in human behavior along with documented consumer experiences have indicated that the gestures of modern touchscreens have expanded the ways users can control a device through its UI. As we have seen with “iPhone phenomena” the multi-touchscreen changes the reality behind the display screen, allowing new ways to control the device through hand-eye (e.g., pinching, zooming, rotating) coordination. But it’s not just the iPhone that’s driving this change. We’re seeing other consumer products trending towards simplifying the user experience and enhancing personal interaction. In fact, e-Books are perfect examples. Many of these devices have a touchscreen UI where the user interacts with the device directly at an almost subconscious level. This shift in improved user experience has also introduced the idea that touchscreens have reduced the number of user inputs required for the basic functioning of a device.

The third part in this four-part series explores the impact of touchscreens on embedded software.


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