Saturday, 8 December 2012

App design touch screens

To the untrained eye, a finger looks podgy and inaccurate in comparison to a mouse pointer. How, you might wonder, can this flabby, clumsy little digit replace the pixel-perfect accuracy of a mouse? Well, though human fingers may seem like bloated embarrassments, they are in fact more versatile. They can pinch, rotate, zoom, stroke, dab, slide, flick, and many other gestures are within the finger’s repertoire. But, best of all, the finger allows something called Direct Manipulation.

What is Direct Manipulation?
When you move a computer mouse, this motion is conveyed along the wire connecting the mouse to the computer, then into the computer screen, then to a mouse pointer which moves in relation to the motion of your hand. The action on the screen and the action of your mouse are connected, but of the input device (the mouse) causes the motion of the pointer. Contrast this with the way a user’s fingers manipulates targets on a touchscreen mobile device: On a touchscreen you literally and directly ‘move’ the objects you are interacting with. Touchscreen manipulations, and the way we interact with actual 3D objects in real life, are almost exactly the same.
The manner, direction, distance, and speed of movements are all directly determined by your fingers. Fingers specify the direction of travel, how far the object moves, and how fast it moves. This is the first time in the history of computing that mass market devices have allowed direct, and literal, manipulation. The touchscreen is totally unlike a mouse. With mouse, you must fish about wildly on the screen, first to locate the pointer position, and then to adjust your movements relative to this starting point. The touchscreen, however, allows you to instantly ‘see’where you want to touch and home in straight on this point. There is no need for orientation. This is the magic of touchscreens.
The other great thing about touchscreens is that you have lots of fingers available to you at any one time. Again, contrast this with the traditional mouse or stylus input system. Mobile devices have been popularised by the emergence of the finger as a new input instrument. It has often been said that the best camera is the one you have with you, the same is true of input devices. The best input device is the one you have with you. For most people on the move, this is the human digit. You don’t have to rifle through your dusty backpack for a stylus, or peck about on an inefficient travel keyboard. The touchscreen has liberated us from decades of cumbersome computer input paraphernalia.

Understanding finger ergonomics
Fingers can be remarkably efficient at inputting complex information. Consider the efficiency of sign language. See how vivid and meaningful hand gestures can be. Many touch screens respond to over eleven finger-touches simultaneously; this gives you enormous scope for different interaction methods in your apps.

Trends in mobile User Interface (UI) design and typography

The UI world is heading towards minimalism and simplicity, especially in mobile app design. The overburdened designs of the past have given way to a fresh new era of pure-purpose.

How offering fewer choices frees the user: Why less is more.

Good design is more about what you leave out than what you put in. Make sure you have refined your idea to its purest point. Take a leaf out of leading designer Jonathan Ive’s book. He has said, “Most of our competitors are interested in doing something different, or they want to appear new - I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us - a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different - they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.” This is key to great design. The more choices you offer a user, the less they tend to enjoy your product. This is because every choice left to the user is an unfinished design decision that you did not have the confidence or authority to make for them. Computers are fast becoming appliances, and this is no bad thing. Mobile devices with touchscreens are set to reach people in a way traditional computers never could - these are the people need you to design for, make good choices for them. Be brave and be bold.

Innovative App design

Many first-time designers fixate on an idea before considering the input system that controls the software. Remember: Input is everything.

Think first: How can I use this hardware in a unique and creative way? The purpose of your app stems from the input method used to control it.

Other input systems to be aware of on major smartphones include the GPS (Global Positioning System) which allows you to discover where a user is geographically – this is especially useful for mapping apps and other location-aware services.

Finally, there is a newer sensor, called a digital compass, which can not only geolocate a user, but also let your app know what direction the user is facing in. This can help with navigational apps. You can also dream up uses that nobody else has thought up yet. All these control systems supply raw data, it’s up to you what you do with those data feeds.

Working with the accelerometer 
The accelerometer is an amazing device that can detect the direction and force of motion applied to a smartphone or other mobile device. It can be used to signal a change in screen orientation by a quick flick of the wrist, or a variety of other manual gestures. The accelerometer feeds live data to the smartphone cpu, and you can interpret this data however you like. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

A free physics engine called Chipmunk Physics allows you to create movements in direct response to the force and direction of motion, responding as if it physically exists.. This is an amazing tool for any app designer and you can find out more about it here:

This free app iHandy carpenter takes advantage of the accelerometer.

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