July 19, 2010

Touch Screen Design Part 1: Most Popular Devices


Hostway Team

By Meredith Barnhill

Touch-screen devices, particularly mobile phones, have exploded in the technology market in the past few years. The most popular devices are completely touch-based with few physical keys and can use applications and browse the Web.

Mobile Phones


Apple's iPhone is arguably the most-popular and best-selling touch-screen mobile device on the market with millions of devices sold every year. It pioneered the device-sized screen as well as touch-screen commands like "tapping" for clicking and "pinching/de-pinching" to zoom in or out of a page element. Apple also boasts the Apple App Store with over 100,000 applications for the iPhone. Despite having thousands of applications, about a third of iPhone owners browse the Web regularly. Apple's iPhone OS does not support Flash, so designers should use Flash elements sparingly, if at all, when designing for iPhone optimization.


Google began carving a section out of the mobile market in 2008 with its Android operating system designed specifically to compete with Apple's iPhone. Though it has only a fraction of the market share Apple does, it is one of the most discussed recent brands. Phones like the Nexus One and Droid are similar to Apple's iPhone, but support Flash and have expandable memory. Google also offers an app store but only has a fraction of what Apple's store offers.


Another major touch-screen mobile device includes the Palm Pre, the most recent mobile phone to use the Palm OS. Businesses often outfit their employees with a BlackBerry, which offers the BlackBerry Storm with a touch-screen design. While Google and Apple dominate the mobile market at the moment, computer manufacturers like Dell have announced their own mobile devices to try to break into the market.

Tablet Computers


In 2010 Apple released the iPad, a tablet computer with an operating system similar to that of the iPhone. The tablet, while nearly identical to its mobile phone counterpart, is larger in size (about 9.5 inches by 7.5 inches) and ideal for reading books or watching videos. As with the iPhone, the iPad doesn't support Flash and lacks the application library that the iPhone features.


After the iPad was released, other computing companies including Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft announced their own versions of the tablet devices, which were scheduled to run Windows 7, but the companies ran into issues and canceled development. Despite initial setbacks, these companies are still in the process of developing devices to compete with Apple's iPad.

Touch-screen Computers

Though full computers with touch-screen functionality have been around for a while, especially within Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart line, they didn't catch on as quickly or as widely as touch-screen mobile devices. They come in a few styles: slate, like the iPad; booklet, resembling a folding book; and convertible, or laptops with monitors that swivel and close, creating a slate functionality. Touch-screen PCs are primarily used in specialized technical fields, like air traffic control.

Microsoft's Surface is a tabletop computer touch screen designed for use in bars and restaurants as a sort of modern service kiosk, but haven't been adopted by mainstream consumers yet.

Come back tomorrow for the next installment in this series:

Read the entire series:

Part 1: Most Popular Devices
Part 2: Who Is the Market for These Devices?
Part 3: How Is the User Experience Different on a Touch Screen?
Part 4: Designing for the Finger Instead of the Mouse
Part 5: Touch Screens of the Future

About the Author

Meredith Barnhill is a multimedia journalist in Austin, Texas.

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