How desktop apps can be transformed into great touchscreen apps

A 2 in 1 gives you the ability to access both desktop and tablet apps, but how can developers build apps that take advantage of both platforms? Here are some of the tricks that they use.

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Switch Interface Depending On Context

It’s a common complaint of users that the great multi-touch experiences you can get from a 2 in 1 don’t mean much if the world is built around the assumption that you’ve always got a keyboard and mouse to hand.

That’s where intelligently designing interfaces that take advantages of onscreen keyboards while leaving enough space within the application for whatever the input is meant to be make sense. Microsoft’s Office suite is a good example of how to do this right; in Word, for example, the onscreen keyboard is triggered when needed, can be hidden at user command if they’re only reviewing a document, but doesn’t obscure onscreen textual elements needed for reviewing.

Design Touch-Friendly Controls

This is one of those tricks that seems obvious in hindsight, but isn’t always implemented well. If there’s good reason to expect that a trackpad or mouse is the primary input, then smaller radio buttons can make a lot of sense, allowing your users to make multiple selections within the confines of a given selection window.

Once you get into touch, however, that’s no longer a good strategy, as users often struggle to tap buttons that make sense within the pixel-precise world of a mouse but are hopelessly small when dealing with actual human digits. Average digit size is between 8-10mm, so you should generally pitch towards that size when considering touch-friendly controls.

However, you can go a lot further than simply implementing larger touch areas when properly designing for touch interfaces. Consider whether your onscreen elements allow for users to rest hands or palms on touchscreens, because many users will fidget or move their hands around. That’s important both for making sure that incorrect selections aren’t made, but also that leaving permanent onscreen selectors on doesn’t leave users blocking other screen elements they may require visual access to.

Equally, if you’re taking an existing mouse/trackpad application and converting it for touch, don’t forget that many “conventions” of that style of interface are either hard for users to implement, or effectively worthless in the touch environment. Properly detecting when touch will be in play can be key here, as is implementing solutions that encompass issues such as quick right clicking or hovering tool tips without needing persistent touch inputs, or inputs that may result in unwanted inputs.

Focus On Single Purpose Apps Rather Than Behemoths

Your desktop application may be an all-singing, all-dancing affair, but that doesn’t always meant that your touch-focused application should run the same way. Facebook is a good example here; while on the desktop you can access every part of the Facebook interface with mouse and keyboard, the same experience is delivered via multiple applications in the Android and iOS space. That allows Facebook to deliver experiences that are specifically crafted towards the unique needs and opportunities of a touch interface. It’s a best of both worlds approach that boils each application to its essence on a platform where quick, easy access is king.

Minimise User Inputs

Manipulating data by touch has the personal feel to it, but it’s not the fastest way to enter data or modify figures. As such, while your application may have and need a full digital keyboard, consider ways to limit its use to make the touch based version of your application more pleasant to use. That could cover everything from intelligent data capture to minimise data re-entry to specifically limiting features in order to reduce or remove finger fatigue. After all, nobody types on a touchscreen keyboard quite as fast as they do with a physical one, even with Swype/Swiftkey style keyboards in play.

Take Advantage Of Voice Recognition

Voice recognition technology offers you the one way around the data entry fatigue problem that just about everyone can take advantage of. It doesn’t matter how fast your typing skills are with keyboard or screen if you’re simply talking to an application, after all. As a developer, the benefit here is that voice input works just as well in desktop and tablet modes for devices such as 2 in 1s, which means that your development work only needs to encompass one application but will work across multiple environments.

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