Academic journal article Human Factors

Interacting with Notebook Input Devices: An Analysis of Motor Performance and Users' Expertise

Academic journal article Human Factors

Interacting with Notebook Input Devices: An Analysis of Motor Performance and Users' Expertise

Article excerpt


In recent decades the use of portable computers has continuously increased, following the fundamental change in the nature of the computer-related work environment. The demand for mobility and networking has resulted in a replacement of desktop personal computers with notebooks in both business and private applications. This still-ongoing development places more emphasis on functional and effective notebook technology as well as on a more natural and easy communication with interactive systems. The numerous input devices available on the market (e.g., mouse, trackball, joystick, graphic tablet, light pen, touch screen) differ distinctly in their shape, size, mode, and cursor velocity function.

Among the types of currently popular peripheral (non-keyboard) input devices, the mouse is still the most-used device with both desktop (97%) and laptop (64%) computers (Hastings, Woods, Haslam, & Buckle, 2000). According to Hastings et al., the integrated input technology in notebooks is fairly infrequently used, in contrast to the broad usage of notebooks among computer workers in general (touchpad: 31%; touch screen: 6%; and mini-joystick: ns). It is noteworthy that users of notebooks do not use the integrated input devices very often. That they prefer the mouse is in direct contrast to the demands for universal mobility imposed on notebook manufacturers.

Difficulties in controlling the notebook devices and a lack of precision were user-reported problems associated with the handling of the touchpad and the mini-joystick (e.g., the IBM TrackPoint[R]), which were integrated in the notebooks (Douglas & Mithal, 1997). The ongoing spread of mobile computers and electronic devices in work and private areas increases the pressure of usability needs and requirements on the design of input devices and the ease with which they are used. This is of crucial importance, as many mobile devices (e.g., personal digital assistants, mobile phones, and computer notebooks) are equipped with small input devices integrated into the hardware. Here it is of central importance that input devices can be handled quickly and easily but also be operated accurately, allowing the user to directly hit and not overshoot the targeted object.

The increasing variety of input devices has attracted closet; attention to better design and more effective human-computer interaction (for an overview see Douglas & Mithal, 1997). Since 1964, when the mouse was introduced in the computer workplace, several studies have been concerned with the usability of input devices with respect to the quality of cursor control (e.g., Card, English, & Burr, 1978: mouse, isometric joystick, keyboard; Fernandez, Cihangirli, Hommertzheim, & Sabuncuoglu, 1988: mouse, joystick, touch screen, trackball; MacKenzie, Sellen, & Buxton, 1991: mouse, tablet with pen, trackball; Sears & Shneiderman, 1991: mouse, touch screen; Sperling & Tullis, 1988: mouse, trackball; Ziefle, 2003: mouse, trackball). The experimental focus of these studies was on motor performance during the use of various types of input devices (e.g., mouse, trackball, touch screen, light pen. joystick) and different cursor control actions (pointing, selection, and manipulation tasks). which makes it hard to integrate the findings across the studies. As a theoretical base for usability evaluation, Fitts's law (Fitts, 1954) is commonly referred to as a standard research paradigm in input device ergonomics (e.g.. Armbruster, Sutter, & Ziefle, 2004; Card et al., 1978; MacKenzie, 1992; Sheikh & Hoffmann, 1994; Sutter & Ziefle, 2004b; Trankle & Deutschmann, 1991). It determines the difficulty of a movement by predicting the movement time as a log-linear function of target distance and target size.

Although most studies have been directed mainly at evaluating external input devices (e.g., mouse), there has been an increase in studies specifically concerned with the usability of input devices integrated in the keyboard or the chassis of computer notebooks, such as the touchpad and mini-joystick (e. …

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