Control Surfaces Set the Future for Handset Input

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In a recently published report titled “Handset Input Interface Methods and Technologies: 2007 – 2011”, wireless research and consulting firm, ARCchart, examines the state of input interface technologies on mobile phones and provides a view of how input technologies and methods will evolve over the coming years. The research firm estimates that keypads are found on about 94% of handset models worldwide, while 96% of models have some form of 5-way navigation interface. Mini-keyboards are found on just 6% of phone models. ARCchart see emerging technologies like haptics and fingerprint sensors gradually playing an interfacing role on the mobile phone. However, control surfaces will make the biggest impact in the next five years, and will increasingly substitute physical interfaces like buttons and scroll-wheels.

With the 12-key numeric keypad appearing on over 95% of all handsets shipped, it is easy to take input interface technologies on the mobile phone for granted. However, it is the handset’s physical input interfaces through which users accomplish their fundamental data entry and Command & Control tasks such as entering characters to construct a text message or navigating through the device’s menu system and launching applications.

Keypads, keyboards, touch-screens, joypads, joysticks and jog dials are the main interfaces delivering this capability today. But as the variety of applications on a phone grows, the mechanisms for interacting and controlling them are put under ever-greater strain: the need for application-specific controls and shortcuts is increased, while the user demand for ease of use has never been greater.

In a recently published report titled “Handset Input Interface Methods and Technologies: 2007 – 2011”, wireless research and consulting firm, ARCchart, examines the state of input interface technologies on mobile phones and provides a view of how input technologies and methods will evolve over the coming years. The research firm estimates that keypads are found on about 94% of handset models worldwide, while 96% of models have some form of 5-way navigation interface. Mini-keyboards are found on just 6% of phone models. ARCchart see emerging technologies like haptics and fingerprint sensors gradually playing an interfacing role on the mobile phone. However, control surfaces will make the biggest impact in the next five years, and will increasingly substitute physical interfaces like buttons and scroll-wheels.

“Any feature which eases data entry will encourage subscribers to send more text, email or IM messages; and features which augment navigation and speed access to personal information and applications will encourage subscribers to initiate more voice calls and consume more content services,” says Bill Ray, the report’s lead analyst.

The report examines all interfaces for entering data including the keypad, mini-keyboards, voice and handwriting recognition systems, as well as more esoteric systems such as chording and alternative keyboards including the virtual keyboard from Lumio and the FasTap keypad from Digit Wireless.

Navigation typically provided through a 5-way joystick or joypad is also assessed, as is the use of voice tags for speech-based look-up of contacts, as well as the speaker-independent voice recognition capability gradually appearing on some handsets to provide UI navigation functions. A new generation of navigation technologies are explored; some niche and some mass market, including motion detection, haptics and navigation using fingerprint sensors. While motion sensing and haptics have compelling gaming applications, they can also be exploited for navigation. Fingerprint sensors are now present on some 6 million handsets, with some models from LGE, Lenovo, Pantech, Samsung and Fujitsu also exploiting these sensors for UI navigation.

A ‘control surface’ is any surface that allows the presence, or position, of a finger or pointing device (e.g. stylus) to be detected. Touch-screens based on resistive technology and widely deployed on PDA phones are currently the most common type of control surface. However, ARCchart expects control surfaces, based on capacitance detection technology, to be increasingly applied to other parts of the handset, not just the screen. These surfaces will substitute physical interfaces like buttons and scroll-wheels, reducing the number of mechanical components required for assembly and allowing handset designers to produce more stylish and innovative form factors: LG’s hugely popular Chocolate, which exploits control surface buttons to achieve it stylishly smooth finish, is a first example on this.

According to Matt Lewis, ARCchart’s Research Director, “Eventually, control surfaces will give rise to soft interfaces, where buttons, keypads, keyboards and various navigation elements are rendered graphically on a touch-sensitive screen to provide interfaces which can change dynamically depending on context and the application.” ARCchart estimates that 38% of all handset models will have some type of control surface interface by 2011.

To purchase this report, or for more information, contact ARCchart sales at + 44 207 826 9000, or email orders@arcchart.com.

Report title:     Handset Input Interface Methods and Technologies: 2007 – 2011

Publication date:    December 2006

Number of pages:    147

Report Summary

About ARCchart

ARCchart is an independent research and consulting firm focusing on all aspects of the wireless communications sector. Based in London, ARCchart’s depth and breadth of analysis provides a global perspective on wireless technology and industry developments. Combining original thinking with exceptional knowledge and experience, ARCchart assists clients in making sound commercial decisions about technologies, market strategies and competitive positions. ARCchart’s strategic advice covers all aspects of the wireless value chain - ranging from semiconductors and WLANs to network operators, handsets and mobile applications.

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MATT LEWIS
ARCchart
+44 207 826 9000
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