Slashdot It! A computer science student and a developer at Microsoft Research have created a technique designed to make it easier to select items on a mobile-phone screen with a finger and not a tiny pointed stylus.
The development comes just before Apple Inc.'s much anticipated iPhone, with its touch screen, hits the market in June.
The Microsoft Research project, called Shift, automatically displays an image on the screen above where users place their finger showing the area under the users' finger. The image is circular and includes a small X. By toggling the tip of the finger, users can move the X to place it on top of the item they want to choose. Lifting the finger from the screen selects the item.
Daniel Vogel, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and Patrick Baudisch, a research scientist at Microsoft Research, developed the technology to solve several problems with mobile-phone touch screens. Many such screens are designed to be used with a stylus, which can be cumbersome to use particularly with just one hand. In addition, programs that are designed to be used with a stylus may feature very small icons that are difficult to choose with a fingertip, the researchers say.
Shift builds on existing technology already developed known as Offset Cursor. Offset Cursor displays a cursor just above the spot a user touches on the screen. That allows users to place their finger below the item they wish to choose so that they can see the item, rather than hiding it with their finger.
Vogel and Baudisch say Offset Cursor has drawbacks, namely for users trying to choose an icon near the edge of the screen. Because Offset Cursor displays the cursor above the finger, it can't be used to choose icons at the bottom of the screen.
Shift only displays the image when necessary, so if a user touches a large item Shift doesn't pop up the circular image.
Technologies developed at Microsoft Research don't necessarily become products that the company sells. The group, which has 700 researchers in five labs around the world and often collaborates with university researchers, works on a wide range of products. They may work with other groups at Microsoft to incorporate their developments into products or they may sell their technology to external sources.