Your fingers walk across your phone's touchscreen countless times a day, but what lies ahead for the technology lying underneath it?
Tempted by the Vodafone Smart Tab II? The fact that our 7-inch tablet now boasts the somewhat super kikin ‘Touch to Search’ tool sewn under its skin is certainly a nice little bonus. We’ve spoken to kikin’s co-founder Brian Rogers about the frontier-shifting tech (read our exclusive interview here), and it’s got us all wide-eyed about the idea of the power in our fingertips.
Tomorrow’s touch tech
Touchscreens are here to stay for the time being, but the status quo is always changing and shifting. We’ve been doing some digging and peered right into the touch-tech crystal ball to find out what lies ahead for the gadgets resting at the end of your fingers. Want to know where the future lies? Let’s take a tour through touch’s tomorrow…
What is kikin? It’s the new beating heart of the Vodafone Smart Tab II’s web browsing experience. While traditional browsers make you leave the page you’re on to look up a word or phrase, kikin offers you news, photos, videos and contextual search results for any word in an article, page or app, in a drop down window on top of that screen – all just by touching it.
In short? kikin brings much more power to your fleshy digits, and the Vodafone Smart Tab II is the first Android device to market with kikin built in. Read the full details here.
Nokia’s Super Sensitive touch
In winter weather, there’s one thing about our phones’ and tablets’ touchscreens that causes a tiny bit of strife: it’s nigh on impossible to use them with your big wintery gloves on. Never fear: Nokia’s making strides to fix the problem.
As the Helsinki firm’s vice president of smart devices, Kevin Shields, puts it: “Nokia has been a leader in display technology, and we are setting a new standard with Super Sensitive Touch technology.” As featured in devices like the Nokia Lumia 820, Super Sensitive touch makes the display so attuned to your hands that you’re able to use the phone even with multiple pairs of gloves on. Seriously.
Sony Floating Touch
Earlier this year, Sony debuted the Sony Xperia Sola. On top of the usual Sony sheen found in the more up-to-date Xperia Miro, Xperia T and Xperia J, it brought us the first glimpse of ‘Floating Touch’ – a brand new way to navigate around the phone with your fingers actually held away from the screen.
Floating Touch lessens the amount of strength the display needs to register a touch. In practice, that means you can swipe around with your fingers a full 0.79 inches (20mm) away from the display – hover over the link to pick it out, then touch the screen to select it. Handy for small, fiddly web links. Hopefully the tech will make it into more phones in the near future.
Tapping out a message on a touchscreen keyboard can occasionally lead to errors and, if you’re prolific enough, lead to achy thumbs. As of 2012, all of Samsung’s new phones and many other Jelly Bean devices come with Swype’s ingenious gesture-based keyboard pre-baked into them.
With Swype, all you need do to type letters is drag your finger around the keys – it’ll make intelligent guesses about the words you’re after that improve over time. Not got it? No worries: Swype’s available to download for any Android phone here.
The return of the stylus
Why not let your fingers have a rest for a while? The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a monster of a phone. Its huge, 5.5-inch screen lets you knuckle down and get more done, but that’s made all the more possible thanks to the S Pen stylus. Yep – the stylus is making a comeback, letting your fingers take a much needed break. Along with easy handwriting, the S Pen offers some pretty amazing tricks.
For example, hover the pen over email attachments and files and the Airview feature will let you preview them as thumbnails, while circling pics and text from the web lets you cut it out and slap it in a digital scrapbook full of your ideas. Oh, and the phone knows when it’s veering too far away from the stylus, alerting you that they’ve gone out of range. Smart.
It may surprise you, but touchscreens don’t need to be kept in the confines of glass panels. Work’s already being done to bring the same technology that lets you swipe between your phone or tablet’s home screens to just about any surface going.
Blue Optics is leading the way here – the company has table-top projectors capable of beaming a 10.1-inch touchscreen on the surface in front of you. Expect these ‘Light Touch’ projectors to crop up in retail and restaurant environments in the near future; just imagine ordering your food from your plate!
Touchless (Google Glass)
What if you could put your wandering fingers in your pockets for good? Earlier this year, Google unveiled its Project Glass headset – a wearable, Android-powered device that aims to bring everything your phone does out of your hands and onto your eyeballs.
It’s still very much a concept at this stage, but Google has plans to launch something that’s practical and portable at some stage within the next year. See it in action below:
What about further into the future than all that? We wanted to find out, so we’ve reached out and spoken to some of the industry’s top tech experts to see what their view is on the future of touch and interaction. How will we use our tech in the next decade and beyond?
Time to put your future hat on…
Tom Wiggins | Deputy Editor, Stuff Magazine
“Until touchscreens can give us proper tactile feedback they’ll never be as good as a keyboard for typing,” Tom suggests. “But a company called Senseg is working on a system for touchscreens that makes them feel textured, so hitting an onscreen key could feel more like a real QWERTY, or scratching vinyl in a DJ app could feel like your fingers are actually on the ones and twos.”
Nigel Brown | Managing Editor, Humans Invent
“The next step beyond touchscreen technology is a more immersive digital experience. How we engage with technology will become a more organic and natural part of our daily lives, beginning through eyewear, which we are already seeing in development or eventually, through our bodies becoming more intertwined with technology. The idea of plugging ourselves into our digital lives with further advancements in 3D, and maybe even bio-chips is genuinely not that far away, maybe 20 or 30 years. When that happens, touchscreen technology will probably be obsolete.”
Chris Davies | Executive Editor, Slashgear
“Touch – and specifically capacitive touch, as popularised by the iPhone – changed the way we interact with mobile devices, but right now it’s still 2D: tap, pinch, and swipe. Tomorrow’s touchscreens will not only recognise finger pressure, so that you can zoom into photos simply by pressing harder, or mark tasks as more or less important depending on how firmly you swipe them, but interact with a host of touch sensors wrapped around the body of the phone or tablet.
“Tomorrow’s touchscreens will not only recognise finger pressure, but interact with a host of touch sensors wrapped around the body of the phone.”
“Think phones that know when you’re wearing gloves, and so scale up the virtual buttons.
“Research into touchscreens that can change their texture also promises to change the way we feel our content, using tiny electrical charges to trick your fingertips into thinking they’re pressing sandpaper, wood, silk, or something else.
“It’s all about maximising the amount of information squeezed into each interaction, to give you more time to enjoy the real world.”
Sam Gibbs | News Editor, Gizmodo UK
“The next evolution of the touchscreen is going to be totally transparent. We’re going to be using a thin, flexible, see-through device, which you’ll be able to touch on both sides to save blocking the image with your fingers. But touch will be fine-grain input. Most interactions will be through the use of voice, gaze, gesture, or spatio-temporal intelligence — your device will know what you want, before you even have the inkling that you want to know it.”
Patrick Goss | Editor in Chief, Techradar UK
“Looking a bit further into the future I don’t think there’s any guarantee that touchscreens will exist at all. I’d say even within a decade the way in which we interact with our devices will have shifted hugely and you can see from the reaction to Google Glass that people are already thinking beyond their tablet and phone for the next generation. Gestures, implanted technology and voice control are all likely to play a much bigger role, and tapping a piece of glass will probably feel pretty archaic by 2022.”