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Adding Multi-Touch to Your Windows Mobile Application's User Interface

What if you could convert your devices to use the kind multi-touch technology you see in an iPhone? It requires modifications to the OS and an overhaul to the entire UI, but it can be done.


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y now, you've heard of Apple's revolutionary iPhone (perhaps you even have one yourself). One of the most interesting features of the iPhone is its touch user interface, which allows users to interact with the phone using their fingers. This is in sharp contrast to the touch-screen used in Windows Mobile devices, which employs single-touch technology and only responds to an exact tap-- hence the need to use a stylus. However, not everyone enjoys using the stylus, especially end users. And users often end up using their fingernails to tap the various controls on the screen.

It's impossible to convert your existing Windows Mobile devices to use the multi-touch technology. Not only would this require modifications to the OS to detect multi-touches, it would also require you to overhaul the entire UI to respond appropriately to touches. However, you can ensure that your application design allows users to navigate its user interface easily using their fingers (and not the stylus).

This article will show the simple techniques you can employ to make your Windows Mobile application respond to touches.



Touch UI for Windows Mobile Devices
At the time of writing, there is only one Windows Mobile device that sports a touch user interface:the HTC Touch (see Figure 1). The HTC Touch utilizes a different type of screen technology and is able to respond to touches as well as the tapping of the stylus. In addition, the HTC Touch includes a new UI layer that wraps around the original Windows Mobile user interface. Users primarily interact with the new UI layer to access commonly used applications on the device (PIM applications such as Contacts, Phone Dialer, and so on). Unfortunately, you will ultimately still end up with the original PIM applications, which are not designed for touch navigation in the first place.


Figure 1. The HTC Touch: Able to respond to touches as well as the tapping of the stylus.
 
Figure 2. The Pointui Interface: You will still need to use the stylus (or fingernail) to touch the relatively large controls.

Here are the important points to take away from examining the current solutions available:

  • Current solutions are only skin-deep: Most of the Windows Mobile applications in use today are still designed for use with a stylus.
  • Redesign is necessary: You have to redesign your application UI so that users can easily interact with it using their fingers (without needing a stylus).
  • There are physical limitations:
  • Unless you have the HTC Touch, you are limited by the screen hardware. This means that you can never have true touch capability (but the experience is close enough if the UI design takes into consideration this fact).
With these restrictions in mind, let's take a look at two examples of how to design your application UI for touch interaction.



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