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Touchscreens get warm welcome

Touch screen devices have historically been the domain of the business user, with the technology pioneered by stylus-controlled PDAs such as the Palm Pilot and the HP iPaq.

But with the advent of the Apple iPhone and a whole raft of clone devices, vendors are taking a gamble on consumers’ readiness to accept a finger-controlled touch screen device.

Industry analyst Canalys released research this week that suggests consumers are warming to the concept of a touch screen device.

Following Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone in January, several handset vendors have announced their own finger touch screen devices, such as the LG Prada phone and the HTC Touch. These are not first manufacturers to show off such technology – that credit goes to a small Finnish company called MyOrigo, which showed off something astonishingly similar to the iPhone in 2003 – but it appears that the timing is only now right for such a device.

Canalys said that phones that have a larger screen give more flexibility over the placement of application icons and have less reliance on the location of a limited number of fixed, physical keys, making more features and services accessible to users.

A bigger display also allows for more attractive advertising and presentation of content and lends itself to the later addition of services by operators, without them being buried so far down a menu tree they are never found.

“Although the user interface is only part of the solution to expanding the market, it is a critical part. You need compelling services and content, and transparent and fair pricing,” said Canalys senior analyst Pete Cunningham.

“But if the interface gets in the way people will soon lose interest or choose other platforms to satisfy their needs. More than half of those we surveyed said they disliked having to learn where all the features were when they got a new phone.”

The Canalys survey revealed a high degree of acceptance among mobile phone users to the idea of using touch screen models. When asked about their personal phone preferences, 23 per cent of respondents said that having a touch screen interface would be good if it meant they got a large display, without increasing the overall size of the phone.

A further 10 per cent were prepared to make a trade-off by ending up with a larger phone in return for a large touch screen or a good keyboard. Only 28 per cent said categorically that they just wanted a traditional numeric keypad while another 24 per cent said that having a small phone was the priority regardless of input method used.

Interestingly, acceptance of touch screen phones was up to 50 per cent higher among those who had high interest in having mobile TV services, mobile email or handset-based GPS navigation, or who already used most of the features on their current phones. But the requirement that the larger screen did not result in a larger phone remained strong across all these groups.

“User interface design is very easy to get wrong and you need to strike the right balance – promoting new or lesser-used services without compromising access to the features that people use every day,” said Mike Welch, Canalys VP.

“The interface has to be responsive, and consistent all the way through – not just up to a point where suddenly another paradigm kicks in. And the standard features that people take for granted, like using predictive text, dialling numbers, finding and updating contacts and using the camera, must work at least as well as on a more conventional phone – it isn’t just about the advanced applications. If a customer picks up a phone in a retail store and can’t see how to do the basics within 20 seconds, they will walk away.”

Canalys’ online survey was conducted in April among more than 2,000 employed, adult mobile phone users in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.


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