How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

Summary: What would you build into *your* perfect Android tablet? Find out my choices (and argue with them) in this continuing series.

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If you could build the perfect Android tablet, what would it look like? That's the question I asked myself last week when I started this series. The number 1 feature was, well, you can go read about it yourself if you missed it. Now it's time for the second most important feature:

#2: Capacitive touch screen with smooth 10+ finger multi-touch

Recently I had the distinct displeasure of trying out an el-cheapo Android tablet from Augen that came with a resistive screen and, of all things, a stylus. Don't let anybody fool you. Resistive screens are bad. Very bad. I'm serious about this. I don't care how cheap they are -- you should avoid them at all costs. Do. Not. Buy.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about multi-touch. For the first couple of years of Android history, Android phones were single-touch. Point, tap, drag, and that was about it. iPhones supported multi-touch gestures like pinch zoom, and Android fans suffered the indignity of having the competition do something better than their baby. Well, at least Android had cut-n-paste, so there.

About the time iPhone finally got cut-n-paste, Android got multi-touch. Sort of. Unfortunately the first implementation on the Nexus One was pretty bad. Aside from jerky low-res registration of finger movements, it often got the coordinates of tracked fingers confused. Partly this was because of limited digitizer hardware used by HTC, and partly this was because of, ahem, idiosyncrasies in the software stack. You can read more about it in my multi-touch series and in various discussion groups and bug reports.

Anyhoo, newer phones, especially the Droid Sholes and successors from Motorola, included a better digitizer that fixed some, but not all, of the problems. Still, a fundamental issue remains: At its best, all Android devices on the market as I write this are limited to only tracking 2 fingers at once.

So sure, you can do pinch and zoom but you can forget about 3 finger swipes and more elaborate gestures that people have thought up. More importantly, only having 2 fingers rules out a whole class of applications like guitar and piano applications, synth controllers, chorded keyboards, and games that two or more people can play. Especially, say, on a larger screen, like a tablet.

A tablet practically begs for lots of fingers to touch it. I own an iPad, and one of my favorite programs there is called Magic Piano by Sonic Mule. I can use all 10 fingers at once to play any music that I could play on a real piano. Unfortunately, I can't play a duet with a friend on the same iPad because it maxes out at 10 or 11 fingers. Any more than that, and the touch screen simply doesn't register the touches.

Are you hearing this, HTC, Motorola, and Notion Ink? Paying attention, Asus and Samsung? To make the perfect tablet, please bring on that silky smooth capacitive goodness with support for *at least* 10 fingers caressing the screen at once, starting at the hardware level and going all the way through the Android software stack. And if you can, make it better than the iPad by supporting more than 10 fingers at once. My fledgling musical career depends on it.

See all the articles in the "Perfect Android Tablet" series:

  1. Long lasting battery
  2. Capacitive multi-touch
  3. Android Market and friends
  4. High resolution
  5. Low price

What would you build into *your* perfect Android tablet? Share your thoughts in the comment area below. And check back next week to find out what's next on my list.

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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38 comments
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  • These are truly exciting times, aren't they Ed. Thanks.

    nt
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
  • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

    When the tag line said "A touch of class", I thought you might talk about the characteristics that make something "classy", but instead you concentrated on the "touch" part. You did mention to avoid the Augen product which, apparently, lacks any "class" at all.

    It's not easy to define what makes a product--or a person--classy, but I think there are some design rules that would help give a product some "class":

    1) Don't load up a product with a bunch of features just to increase the feature count. A few well-executed features are better than a lot of half-baked ones.

    2) Don't try to make a tablet/slate into a full-blast desktop system by cramming in lots of ports, etc. A mobile product is a different animal.

    3) Don't make specialized features part of the basic operating system ("social", for instance). Let apps be added to customize the product to fit the users' needs and tastes.

    4) DO NOT allow crapware!
    Userama
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

      @Userama

      I agree with your points for the most part... though Number 2, I'm not so sure of. I agree that it shouldn't try to be a desktop. But having any number of ports, SD, USB, Video, etc is not a bad thing.
      Badgered
      • See point one

        NT
        frgough
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

        @Badgered I agree, need some output and input ports (video). Also, this is Android, add a phone.
        pllamonica9
    • I disagree

      @Userama

      I would not use it without expansion ports. They don't take up much room, nor drain the battery. Quite frankly there is no reason not to have them.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Speaking of draining batteries.......

        @NStalnecker
        Have you heard about pro golfer Jim Furyk, who was disqualified from a tournament because his cell phone battery ran down and his alarm didn't go off, so he didn't make it to the first tee on time? My guess is that he had a wangdoodle smartphone with multitasking (a feature of dubious value, IMHO), and left one--or more--of the tasks running, which killed the battery. Bet that's not the last time you'll hear about unintended multitasking biting somebody on the butt!
        Moral: Too many cooks spoil the soup. Too many multitasking apps drain the battery.
        Userama
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

        @NStalnecker

        I completely agree with you about expansion ports. The main complaint people had about the iPad was that it didn't have them. Now we have people posting that they shoudn't have them?
        step69
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

        @NStalnecker

        So exactly what expansion port are you expecting, and how would you use it?
        dave95.
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

      @Userama... Not loaded with a bunch of features... few ports... no crapware... no social networking built in... sounds like an iPad to me!
      levinson
    • Can't fix stupid

      @Userama

      First of all, using a cellphone for an alarm is multitasking. If it were so critical, he'd could get tiny digital alarm clock for $5. I bet he used his smartphone, because he always has his smartphone with him. He doesn't leave it in the golf bag, in the car, or by the bedstand 1,000 miles away. You say you don't see the point of multitasking, and then point to a painfully pertinent example of it.

      Android needs to make multitasking more transparent and manageable, not nix it.
      tkejlboom
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

      @Userama Or at least, if you allow crapware allow it to be uninstalled (and not burned into read-only memory).
      Ed Burnette
  • I wish

    OEM's would start converting to OLED screens for both tablets and laptops. They look nice and save battery.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • OLED not a panacea

      @NStalnecker Actually I just read some tests recently where the LCD phones had better battery life than the AMOLED ones. Plus, AMOLED displays like on the Nexus One have fewer effective sub-pixels.
      Ed Burnette
  • On the other hand

    Imagine a piece of paper on which you could only write with finger paints. That's capacitive touchscreens.<br><br>The problem with the 'no resistive screens' thing is that there actually ARE times when a stylus is exactly the right way to do something. When you need precision. When you want to write or draw. <br><br>Now, if every capacitive screen came with a Wacom style pressure sensitive backing and a pen so you could use either fingers or pen - then I'd agree.<br><br>Until that day - there will always be a place for resistive - especially for more modern ones like Stanten's multitouch/pressure resistive technology.
    TheWerewolf
    • Not on my tablet

      Have you tried web browsing and scrolling and multi-touch on a resistive screen? Unless the technology improves a lot, I'll take capacitive any day. For those who need styluses, they do exist for capacitive displays but you hardly ever see them used (I've never seen anybody use one myself).
      Ed Burnette
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

      @TheWerewolf agreed, resistive screens have gotten a horrible name from the el cheapo ones. Ed, I can send you a better tablet with a resistive panel to check out, I believe you will feel entirely different about resistive after trying this one.
      JoeBorn
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

        @JoeBorn I'm skeptical but I'd be happy to take a look. Click on my email link.
        Ed Burnette
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 2: A touch of class

      @TheWerewolf
      I absolutely agree. Coming from a Palm/Graffiti background, using a stylus for anything besides hitting a few control points is much more natural for me than smudging my fingers all over the screen, which is my other issue - the smudging gets so disgusting, that I hate touching the screen. Guess I am just not the touchy-feely type (with tech gadgets at least ;-)
      aroc
  • It will be cheap plastic crap.

    N/T
    MSFTWorshipper