Apple’s iPhone touch-screen – will it work as advertised?

What mobile devices have been missing is a touch-screen that “just works”. I use a Tablet PC with Vista loaded onto it, and love the functionality that a touch-screen interface delivers. But I wish it worked by finger touch, too. At least one model, from either Motion or Electrovaya has arrived with this capability, but it’s not something that everyone else has rushed to copy, which is a shame.

Touch-screen technology is available for consumer flat-screen TVs. Pioneer has a naturally transparent cover that fits over the top of their Plasma TVs that activates a touch screen capability when running the Windows Media Center OS, and is quite fun to use.

Touch screens on ATM machines always seem to work well, with no bad experiences immediately coming to mind, unlike the experiences of many PDA style smartphones. While it is quite easy to become proficient at using an interface with a stylus, many people instinctively use their finger with such phones, which doesn’t always work because of the size difference between a stylus and your fingertip.

Someone even invented a pointed tip that you could slip over your index finger to use way back in the Palm V days. But sadly they never really seemed to take off, otherwise everyone would be using them today.

High-end remote control manufacturers who have created expensive and highly advanced touch-screen models are reported to have found that users simply prefer buttons on this kind of device, in addition to some kind of screen to display information, simply because the tactile feedback in a remote control is a very handy thing – you can change channels, volume and take control without needing to look at the keypad to see which button you’re pressing.

Perhaps future touch screen displays, large and small, will have the ability to somehow create little bumps in different patterns on the screen, (be they squares, circles, triangles, little pyramids, semi spheres) with some kind of transparent nano-gel. That would give people the tactile feedback they want while enjoying the benefits of an infinitely re-programmable screen.

One report mentioned the iPhone has to be used with your bare finger – you can’t wear a glove and have it work. Given that gloves can come in different thicknesses, future touch screens may need incredibly accurate sensitivity to compensate for the bigger impact zone of a gloved finger, yet still actually work.

Also - how easy it is to enlarge button sizes on the iPhone screen for those whose eyesight might benefit from larger icons and larger text? This is probably already a feature, and if not, it could easily be programmed. It will be interesting to see how it would look. Larger buttons would also have larger impact zones, which may help some users.

While Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the iPhone at the Macworld keynote looked insanely simple to use, prompting me to think that the iPhone and its control system are something that even my mother could understand and start using within 5 minutes.

Apple's online iPhone demonstrations makes it look very easy, too. Actually they look like almost exact duplicates of what Steve Jobs was showing on stage. Reports of people having actually used an iPhone, including that of iTWire colleague Stan Beer have all been very favorable, although it has to be said virtually everyone that has tried it has only been granted a few minutes controlled access, with only a lucky few getting a few minutes more.

So what are some of the other questions we want answers to, and what happens if the iPhone doesn't deliver as expected? Read onto page 2 for the conclusion...

The questions we’d like answers to, such as will the screen get scratched and stop working, or become otherwise gummed up, is it harder to use without looking at it, does it need frequent recalibration, what happens if you accidentally drop your iPhone from table height onto the floor and plenty of others are yet to be answered, and for now, we just have to wait.

But surely Steve Jobs has thought of these issues – he has been through the 1st-generation iPod Nano screen scratch fiasco after all. Global reports of problems soon after or even on the day of general iPhone release won’t be fun for anyone.

If Apple really have delivered the world’s first truly useable touch-screen, a new generation of handheld devices will finally appear, as the rest of the world is spurred on to create devices as equally as easy to use, and hopefully better!

How good the LG Prada’s touch-screen will be is also yet to be determined, and it will be fascinating to compare them head-to-head, and then to see who else decides to deliver similar technology of their own.

Apple’s policy of vetting all third party content for the iPhone will hopefully guarantee that every third party app allowed for release (online sale and download for immediate installation) will have the same quality smooth touch interface that the rest of the iPhone has already displayed.

How successful Apple’s iPhone screen and touch interface ultimately ends up being, with the expectation that it will exceed expectations, a new standard – the next generation of human user interface design, in mobile devices anything else that can be controlled by touch screen – has finally been set.

People are looking at touch-screen technology in a new way, with the expectation that it should ‘just work’. There’s no stopping major progress and innovation in this area now, just like the innovation that’s running hot in renewable energy technologies, electric cars, Internet technologies and much more to come. From the standpoint of technology evolution, it’s a great time to be alive!

The prediction that we’ll see more technological innovation in the next 30 years than we’ve seen in the last 2000 looks like it will come true, as long as the world doesn’t destroy itself through war, environmental catastrophe, global economic meltdown, avian influenza pandemic or other doomsday scenario, which I hope that humanity is smart enough and or lucky enough to avoid, or at least avoid the doomsday aspect thereof. Humans always want a soft landing, although we don’t always get it.

The iPhone looks to being the first to truly deliver this ‘just works’ experience on an advanced mobile communicator, a bit like the ‘information pads’ or the PADD from Star Trek, but one that’s real, and not a TV show prop. Apple’s rumoured ‘Mac Tablet’ which was reported to be running on a similarly modified version of OS X and would have a larger screen could emulate the PADD concept even more.

If that’s the case, hopefully there’ll also be a Mac Tablet that combines the best of the iPhone interface with the ability to run existing Mac OS X apps, and one which could have touch-screen interfaces created for software like Photoshop, Office, iLife and any other software that wanted to implement it, no doubt according to strict Apple guidelines. Of your finger would serve as the mouse, but if needed, you could easily use a Bluetooth or USB keyboard and mouse for data entry and more precise mouse control.

But before all that, in theory, anyway, unless a Mac Tablet comes out at the same time to give Jobs the ultimate touch control lineup and the greatest worldwide publicity ever, comes the iPhone itself in June.

So what happens if the iPhone doesn’t revolutionize the touch screen interface and mobility as much as expected, despite the stunning interface we’ve all just seen? The iPhone 2 and future devices, whether from Apple or not, surely will. There’s no turning back now!

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