Multiple input types and the 2 in 1 form factor

A recent video from UX thought leader Luke Wroblewski briefly touched on the topic of multiple input types and 2 in 1s. With 2in1s offering multiple input capabilities from touch, keyboard, mouse, camera and audio, it’s important to understand how to equip the user to get the most from all of them. Watch below:


2in1s have a number of unique capabilities; not only can they be used in a wide variety of use cases, but they also offer a nice spectrum of different input types. They are uniquely positioned for capturing different information with multiple inputs: a keyboard, cursor, track pad, camera, microphone, etc.

All of these allow people to enter information into the software. Luke states that the first reaction of many developers and designers is to simply detect the input type and change the interface accordingly. For example, you might end up with a solution similar to Google that's intrinsically just mouse and keyboard-centric, but in actuality, Google and other Google peripheral services support multiple input types. You can use a keyboard and mouse to type in a search query, but they're embracing touch by making the targets large enough to hit with your fingers. Google also supports the ability to search for content using voice controls. It's really positioned to take advantage of whatever input the control the user is currently poised to choose.

Touch may be one of the most elementary capabilities known to humans, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to implement. There are a few things that developers need to keep in mind when designing for touch in order to make the experience as user-friendly as possible, and relevant to the form factor:

  • Space:  fingers are not the most precise of instruments. Space out controls in touch mode and ease frustration.
  • Content:  the content is the interface, and not the tools. For example, filling out forms using touch is an exercise in futility. Make sure that your app uses proper target touch sizes. Try rethinking forms including elements such as an instant input mode and virtual keyboards.
  • Controls: Controls are necessary, but the standard icons and menu buttons don’t necessarily apply here. Use sliders, input boxes, and easily accessible checkboxes to reduce reliance on the keyboard, unnecessary steps, and sheer head-banging fury.
  • K.I.S.S.: The old adage of “keep it simple silly” certainly applies to touch. It’s an input method that forces simplification; you have to decide which actions are most important, what stays on the screen and what goes away. It can be a difficult process, but you end up with software that is easier to understand and therefore much easier to use.

Looking at this another way, our gestures change from one device to another, depending on how that form factor reacts to certain manipulations. What works on one device won't necessarily work on another. When supporting multiple input types on the 2in1, Luke points out that the more inputs available, the better: whether that's touch, cursors, mouse, keyboard, etc., each of these input types can make sense at any given moment, as well as common gestures that might not translate as well across form factors. For example:

  • Tap and double tap: briefly touch the surface with a fingertip/rapidly touch surface twice with a fingertip. Both of these can be accomplished using multi-fingers, but that’s a bit more difficult to master. The simpler the gesture to do, the easier for the end user.
  • Swipe/drag: move a fingertip over the surface area without losing physical contact. This is the most versatile of touch gestures right after tap. A multi-finger action with swipe is fairly easy to implement.
  • Flick: quickly brush the surface with a fingertip (this one can actually get content moving around the screen faster than the mouse or keyboard can). One of the most versatile touch gestures.
  • Pinch: touch the surface with two fingers and bring something closer
  • Spread: touch the surface with two fingers and move them apart
  • Press: touch the surface for an extended period of time
  • Press and tap: press the surface with one finger and briefly touch the surface with another finger (somewhat tricky to accomplish). Luke points out that in the Microsoft touch documentation that this is best avoided since it can be triggered accidentally and is difficult to time correctly for optimum response.
  • Rotate: touch the surface with two fingers and move them in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction

One of the key points touched upon in another video from Mr. Wroblewski titled "Re-imagining apps for Ultrabook: Touch Gestures" is that developers need to know how the operating system that they are designing for handles common commands that might be duplicated in apps utilizing different form factors. For example, certain touch gestures that work perfectly fine in an app might accidentally also bring up system controls, therefore confusing the user and considerably reducing the trust that they might have put in the app they just downloaded. It’s smart to know what standards you are dealing with as far as operating systems, and develop the apps accordingly.

As developers, sometimes it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. There’s a wholly different perspective behind designing an app vs. using it without that back-end perspective, and sometimes usability can get lost in translation, especially when figuring out how a design will work on different form factors. Stay tuned for an ongoing series on improving UX from Luke Wroblewski, focused especially on 2in1s. For more information, check out the User Experience Zone on IDZ, where you'll find everything you need to make your UX stand out. 

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