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Opposable thumbs make tablets more useful says Microsoft Research

You're already gripping your fondleslab, so why not give the thumb something useful to do?

By Simon Sharwood, 9 May 2017

Microsoft Research has come up with an interesting idea – user interfaces designed specifically for thumb-plus-stylus use on tablet computers.

The company's brain box likes this idea because when you use a stylus-capable fondleslab you devote your strong hand to the task of wielding the stylus while your weaker hand gets the job of pincering the device to hold it steady. Microsoft reckons that pincering thumb is wasted and should instead be put to work.

But because the thumb needs to remain in place – moving it around means you'll drop the tablet – we need new user interface elements to put the digit to work.

Which is just what Ken Pfeuffer of Lancaster University, plus Microsoft Research's Bill Buxton, Ken Hinckley and Michel Pahud, have done.

The video below shows off their efforts: in Excel they suggest controls that make it easier to change the role of a stylus while working in a spreadsheet. A second scenario makes the thumb able to scroll, open web pages in background tabs or invoke a menu for different stylus options. The researchers' third scenario lets users scroll and access a palette of tools in a drawing program.

Youtube Video

As the video concludes, the techniques demonstrated “have the ability to increase the productive capability of tablets.” And any increase is clearly needed, given that tablet sales have declined for two-and-a-half years and show no sign of bouncing back. ®

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech sector. Part of Situation Publishing