Touchscreens Vs Traditional Controllers In Handheld Gaming


The article aims to compare input via virtual buttons on a touchscreen (represented here by an iPhone) to input from a physical gaming controller (represented here by a Nintendo DS). Participants were asked to complete a level on “Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles” four times on the devices while the researchers measured the difference in the number of deaths, completion time, etc.


Traditional controllers outperform virtual touchscreen controllers because of the haptic feedback that they provide.

Tactile feedback emerged as an important aspect for enhancing touchscreen performance. For example, “Brewster et al. demonstrated that vibrotactile feedback in touchscreen keyboards significantly improved text entry speed, reduced errors and improved error correction. Participant feedback strongly favored the tactile display.”

Pitts et al. demonstrated that multi-modal feedback is preferred over visual feedback alone in their study. Combining visual, audible and haptic feedback has consistently been rated as effective. These results indicate the importance of haptic feedback in systems where user attention is divided and visual contact with the interface is limited.

The article mentions several design techniques that have been used with touchscreen devices including, the Shift technique, SideSight, SemFeel, and the Blackberry SurePress.


The results of the experiment were predictable and expected even from a simple glance of the paper. The researchers could have conducted a more extensive study.

Back-of-device interaction involves adding a touchscreen (or touch surface) on the back of the device to avoid finger occlusion. This concept was mentioned as a possible alternative for directional pad controls. But how exactly would something like this work? How would a player know what buttons he is pressing when he can’t even see the back of the device? Would this really be an effective solution?

“SideSight mitigates the need for user input on the screen, or in fact on any part of the device itself. It instead uses proximity sensors to divert the user input region to the areas on either side of the device. While this solves the problem of occlusion on smaller screens it may be impractical for hand-held gaming as it requires the user to lay the device on a surface while using it.”

The researchers could have used a larger sample size.