Touchscreens at MWC 2009, some conclusions

With the MWC 2009 has come what many of us had been waiting for for about two years, after the launch of the first big mobile with touch screen, iPhone. It is confirmed that large manufacturers are betting very strongly on terminals with touch screens.

Almost all the phones that have attracted the most attention include a touch screen, and some of them also have another second input device in the form of a physical keyboard. For example, the Samsung OmniaHD or the UltraTouch, the Touch Pro 2 and the Touch Diamond 2 by HTC, the unexpected HTC Magic and the HTC Dream like Android phones, and finally the Palm Pre, which, according to Susana from XatakaMóvil, is the long-awaited iPhone Killer. And it must be admitted that it looks great.

I think that, in view of the terminals presented at the Barcelona fair, it can already be said that, indeed, the phones of the future will have touch screens, at least a large majority of them. Apple opened the ban, achieving a magnificent interface and a technology (the multi-touch) that was implantable to implement at the domestic level. Now the rest of the manufacturers have taken note and have put on the market devices that are much more powerful than Apple's, and that are gradually getting closer to the usability that the iPhone offers. And let's not forget that the iPhone 3G is nothing more than the original model, launched on the market in June 2007, but with a slight evolution at the hardware level. It is, therefore, a 2007 mobile with minor tweaks.

Advantages of touch screens

Going back to what I wanted to tell you, a touch screen is ideal for the vast majority of users, since it greatly facilitates the handling of the device and greatly improves the user experience. You put your finger and the system runs, it moves. To this we must add that the mobile operating systems have evolved in a very considerable way, especially in the visual aspect: now they are much more beautiful and delicate when it comes to handling, and more generally it could be said that their design has improved notably. They have been able to adapt to the terminals on which they move, since we must not forget that mobile phones are devices whose use has become widespread in recent years.

A touch screen has many other advantages. It saves a lot of physical space, which can be used for other purposes: a larger battery or larger capacity storage devices, for example. Similarly, the touch screens of current mobile phones have larger dimensions than we had in terminals a few years ago, and this brings with it much wider spaces, a display of web pages much more faithful to what we see in our computer screens and cleaner applications. In short, bigger, better.

Disadvantages of touch screens

However, we do not have to leave out the disadvantages. First of all, one of the biggest pitfalls of the most fashionable mobiles lately: a larger screen implies a much higher energy consumption, which makes the battery have a very small autonomy, a handful of days. Fortunately little by little it is an aspect that is improving, although it continues to be very far from the weeks that the phones of yesteryear (in my case a Nokia 3310) offered.

Touchscreens are many and of many types, and they respond in a radically different way. For example, the Nokia 5800 has a very hard screen, where you have to press hard enough to get the system to respond. The opposite pole is found in the iPhone, where it simply interacts with a touch, while the rest of the terminals respond in an intermediate way, neither one case nor the other. All this means that a learning period is needed in all the different types of screen, in which we have to know how to interact, how much to press and where exactly. The precision is very different between several different terminals, since the screens are radically different (although they are all included as touchscreens).

The use of touchscreens on mobile phones has also brought up another small problem. While mobiles were getting smaller and smaller at the beginning of the present decade, with touchscreens this has changed and now they remain at about 10-12 centimeters in height, with highly variable thicknesses and with screens ranging from 2.6 to 3.5 inches diagonal in most cases. This change in evolution now makes the devices heavier and much larger than the miniatures that were seen a few years ago. Now, a touchscreen mobile cannot be small. What sense would a device with a 1-2 inch touch have? It seems clear that the phones of the future will not be small.

Another small point against touch screens is their use as a keyboard. We lose touch as we feel when pressing a physical keyboard, and instead we find nothing or, sometimes, systems haptics or similar such as the BlackBerry Storm. For most users, a physical keyboard is much faster than a touchscreen keyboard, since we simply have to touch the key and press. On a virtual keyboard we first have to see where to press, then point, and then shoot press. Much or little, it is a difference that many of us have noticed in the transition from the physical to the tactile.

Touchscreen phones: the future

In short, in this MWC 2009 we have found that touch screens have been the main bet for many of the big manufacturers, and it seems that they will continue to be so for many years to come. They are comfortable and very attractive to the user, and their price is already low enough that there are almost free touch terminals (for example, the HTC Magic that will start from 19 euros in Spain).

Tactile is the future, at least a few (many) years from now. Now we have to wait and see what the evolution of touch screens is, whose launch is totally uncertain but that is surely already being studied by the research departments of large companies. Which one?. For now it is unknown.

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