New York Times
May 17, 2014
the Limits of Touch Screens
screens are ubiquitous on tablets and smartphones, but their
flat glass surfaces can hinder close reading and accurate typing.
People flipping through electronic pages often retain less of
what they read than on printed ones, studies suggest. And typing
on a flat surface with no physical keys to guide the fingers
requires heightened visual attention to avoid typos, draining
concentration from the thoughts being expressed.
are trying to address these problems with new tools adapted
from the analog world of three-dimensional typewriter keys,
tactile paper pages, and pop quizzes on the blackboard.
Technology of Fremont, Calif., is developing a keyboard with
shape-shifting keys that pop up from the screens surface
when needed, then recede so that the screen is flat and featureless
again, said Craig Ciesla, co-founder. Fluid in tiny microchannels
raises the keys up and later recedes, making it appear that
the keys have melted away.
technology will be offered later this year as an accessory to
the iPad Mini, for $80 to $100, Mr. Ciesla said. Next year it
will be included in many touch screens produced for tablets
and smartphones. Wistron, a company in Taiwan that is an investor
in Tactus, will make the panel with the disappearing keyboard.
(Tactus says it has raised $21 million in capital.)
tactile features can help build muscle memory and improve accuracy
skills lost in the rush to touch screens, said Scott
MacKenzie, a professor of electrical engineering and computer
science at York University in Toronto who specializes in human-computer
interaction. Many people who type on flat glass screens must
keep their eyes focused on the surface to hit the correct key,
he said. Its not just that visual attention is needed,
he added, but a lot of visual attention.
means less focus on the act of composition, said Erik Wästlund,
a senior lecturer in psychology at Karstad University in Sweden
who specializes in the readability of electronic text. Keys
that rise and fall, but dont use up valuable screen real
estate when no longer needed, are a good solution, he said.
The more senses you can use, the better, he said.
The senses can work in parallel.
typing isnt the only problem with touch screens and their
fleeting electronic pages. Many studies suggest that peoples
memory and comprehension are often better when they read long
passages on paper than on screen, said Mariette DiChristina,
editor in chief of Scientific American, which in August held
a conference on learning in the digital age.
electronic textbooks are incorporating ways to compensate for
this, Ms. DiChristina said, so that you are spacing what
you are learning over time with feedback right or wrong
to immediately help you understand what you know and
what you dont know.
pop quizzes can be inserted effectively into e-pages, said Susan
Winslow, vice president for marketing at Macmillan Higher Education,
the publisher. For example, one of its e-textbooks for college
biology majors, Biology: How Life Works, offers
the ability to take notes and highlight text on screen, as well
as frequent short quizzes, embedded in the text, to aid in retention.
Students get their scores instantly. We give them feedback,
Ms. Winslow said, and students can find out if they are right
or wrong on each question before moving on.
down students as they read electronic textbooks can be important,
said Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist and cognitive
neuroscientist at Tufts University and author of Proust
and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
digerati who may have never lifted a 1,200-page printed textbook
may need some help as they speed along on their e-books. Dr.
Wolf cited a recent study from Israel in which engineering students
perceived their performance to be better when they read on a
screen rather than on paper. But the reality was that
they were better on paper, she said.
problem with touch screens transitory images is that they
dont help students create a mental map of what theyve
read and whats to come an overview that is known
to be useful in memory. You might remember that something
you read yesterday in the paper was in the middle of the page,
or in the right corner, Dr. Wästlund said. Even
though you havent tried to memorize position, you have
built this internal model like the page layout
of a newspaper. That kind of cognitive map or physical landscape
into which readers fit new knowledge is much harder to build
with fleeting e-pages.
help with this problem, Sangtae Kim, Jaejeung Kim and Soobin
Lee of the Institute for Information Technology Convergence
at Kaist, a South Korean university, have built a prototype
for a touch-screen interface that lets students flip through
e-book pages as they would though a paper book. On the left
side, students can see all the pages theyve read; on the
right are the pages that remain. Students can hold a page in
view while scanning the contents and cross-referencing distant
of these devices may play valuable roles for the many people
who may need to tap the brakes a bit while working on touch
screens. Skimming, browsing, multitasking all of
that is done better on screen, said Dr. Wolf at Tufts,
adding that it shouldnt come at the cost of what she called
deep reading the contemplative, focused aspect
of the reading life.