Fourth in a series of posts highlighting Tech Digest’s pick of big technology trends for the second half of 2007…
It may have escaped your notice, but there’s a new mobile handset called the iPhone coming out this Friday. I know, you’d think someone would have publicised it. One of the most intriguing elements of Apple’s handset is its tactile touch-screen interface, which goes further than merely dabbing at buttons with a stylus, and gets you using your fingers to swipe, slide and explore.
Of course, iPhone isn’t the only touchscreen mobile angling for your cash. Handsets like LG’s Prada phone, the HTC Touch and Sony Ericsson’s W960 Walkman all offer touch-based user interfaces. Analyst iSupply reckons that by 2012, over 21 million gadgets will be sold with advanced touchscreens – many of which will be mobile phones.
Why have mobile manufacturers got the touchscreen bug? Mainly because it provides a neat solution to this problem: how do you make it easy to control the many functions of a cutting-edge mobile phone – music, TV/video, games, email, web surfing etc – without ending up with a device that has 46 buttons on?
Answer? A touchscreen, which is big enough to provide less squinty video viewing and surfing, but which is also able to switch control buttons according to what you’re currently using the phone for. That’s why by Christmas 2007, there’ll be a gaggle of slinky touchscreen mobiles competing for your upgrade.
But it’s not just mobile phones that are shifting to touchscreens. Think about personal media players, which also face the challenge of having a screen big enough to play video, while also needing adaptable controls. Apple filed a patent for a touchscreen iPod earlier this year, while LG has actually unveiled its ‘Touch Me’ MFFM37 PMP, which is due on sale imminently.
Meanwhile, expect digital cameras to get in on the touchscreen act too. HP’s upcoming Photosmart R937 has a whopping 3.6-inch touchscreen, whose selling point is that you can edit and organise photos on the camera, without needing to transfer them to a PC first. It joins existing touchscreen digicams like the Pentax Option T30, hinting that the next six months will see even more models.
But lastly, what about really big touchscreens? As in tables. Microsoft recently showed off its Surface technology, in the shape of a 42×21-inch tabletop that can recognise gadgets placed on it, and connect with them accordingly. Bill Gates might have one in his living room, but the real application is commercial premises, from hotels and retailers through to casinos. By the end of this year, we’ll see if Surface is a gimmick, or here to stay.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
1. On a mobile phone, are touchscreen virtual keyboards up to the job of writing long emails or even short text messages? Would-be iPhone owners will find out this Friday…
2. Will device manufacturers ensure their user interfaces match up to the potential of having a touch-screen? Which is to say, a dodgy UI is still dodgy, whether you’re controlling it with buttons, a stylus or your thumbs.
3. How do touchscreens on handheld devices like phones and cameras stand up to long-term exposure to grubby thumbs, coins and keys in pockets, and the elements?
THE FULL TECH TRENDS LIST
1: Telly 2.0
2: Green Gadgets
3: Blu-ray and HD DVD convergence
4: Virtual Reality
6: Mobile social networking
8: Bluetooth music
9: DRM-free music
10: Wi-Fi personal media players