iPhone multi-touch skin sensitive ONLY

January 16th, 2007 | by dnw |

Well, that was quick. Following the trail of links after my previous post wondering if the iPhone’s “multi-touch” display would be able to be used by those who can’t use their fingers, it seems the answer is NO.

On David Pogue’s Ultimate iPhone FAQ list, part 2, I find this:

“Will the iPhone touch surface work if you’re wearing gloves? Be unpleasant to use the phone in the dead of winter otherwise?”. “No, it responds ONLY to skin touch. I couldn’t use my fingernail, for example. And you certainly can’t use a stylus. (On the other hand, I doubt there’s ANY smartphone you can operate with gloves on.)

*sigh* Next I guess is would I be able to manage the display given my lack of finger movement and steadiness with my knuckle?


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  1. 12 Responses to “iPhone multi-touch skin sensitive ONLY”

  2. By Will Parker on Jan 17, 2007 | Reply

    Not that it will help folks who have finger/arm movement problems, but coincidentally an hour or so after reading both Pogue’s article and yours, I ran across a company that appears to have solved the problem of using capacitance sensor interfaces while wearing gloves. They’ve developed some sort of fabric that doesn’t block the body’s electrical fields. See http://www.tavoproducts.com/TavoGloves.html.

    However, it remains to be seen whether the iPhone interface will still register click events when the user is wearing gloves like these. See my previous comment about click-sensing via electrical field changes.

  3. By Dave the Lifekludger on Jan 17, 2007 | Reply

    Hey thanks Will. I have problems with using a laptop because of this very issue. In fact I can’t use them if they have touch pads only. In my job I look for models with the little pointer but they are coming rare. We recently had to get a macbook..but I can only use it by propping a mini mouse on side…no way I could use one for my main work machine! I’ve tried different materials on the pad..like anti-static bags work somewhat but stop after a while. I’ll be very interested to see these gloves. The response of BDK here in comments is so short sighted….we are already reaching the point in laptops where there is no other alternative to touch pads. What will happen when we reach that situation with phones?
    Thanks again for your interest Will.

  4. By Will Parker on Jan 17, 2007 | Reply

    Dave: Stepping away from the problems with the iPhone screen for the moment, I have something that may help you on Mac laptops.

    In Mac OS X, you can turn on an option to move the mouse pointer around using the built-in keypad keys (on laptops, that’s ‘Num Lock’, then the {7-8-9 / U-I-O / J-K-L} keys). You can also turn on an option to use the Tab key to cycle through ALL the clickable user-interface elements. Again, not an ideal solution, but there may be ‘Sip/Puff tube’ interfaces that could be adapted to work with these options.

    All of these options can be found in the Universal Access panel of System Preferences (Apple menu | System Preferences | Universal Access). The ‘Keyboard’ and ‘Mouse & trackpad’ tabs hold most of the options for limited-mobility issues. You’ll also want to turn on the option for ‘Enable access for assistive devices’ by clicking the checkbox at the bottom of the preference panel.

    Under the ‘Keyboard’ tab, we find the following:

    – ‘Sticky Keys’, which makes it MUCH easier to deal with keyboard commands using modifier keys like Control, Option and Command. There is also an option to turn Sticky Keys on or off by pressing the Shift key five times in a row.

    – ‘Display pressed keys on screen’, which shows currently active modifer keys using a large translucent symbol on screen.

    – ‘Slow Keys’, which introduce an adjustable delay between the time a key is pressed and when it is accepted. This prevents inadvertant keyboard events when the user has difficulty with fine motor control.

    Under the ‘Mouse & Trackpad’ tab, we have ‘Mouse Keys’, the option that allows you to use the numeric pad to move the mouse.

    Here you’ll find options to allow turning this off and on by pressing the Option key five times in a row, setting an initial delay to avoid spurious inputs, mouse speed, and mouse pointer size.

    There’s also a button here that takes you to the "Keyboard" preference pane, where you’ll find a section called ‘Full Keyboard Access’, where you can set the Tab key to tab between ‘text boxes and list [items] only’ or ‘All Controls’. You’ll want to pick the latter option.

    With Full Keyboard Access turned on, tabbing causes the selected UI element to be highlighted. Arrow keys can be used to move between sub-elements (list items, for example) and the Space bar can be used in lieu of a mouse-click. This is particularly useful in web browsers.

    Admittedly, in current versions of Mac OS X, support for this in applications is somewhat spotty. Allegedly, it will be *much* easier for developers to fully support this feature in Mac OS X 10.5, due out sometime in the next few months.

  5. By Dave the Lifekludger on Jan 17, 2007 | Reply

    Thanks Will. Yes I am familiar with most of these features at least on the XP platform that is used mostly at my work. The Full Keyboard Access sounds interesting I’ll look at that.

    However using the mouse keys on a laptop is utterly painfull. It’s bearable just on a full sized keyboard where theres a seperate number keypad but on a laptop I find them terrible because the number keys are also letter keys.

    It is however, like you say, an option and one I’m glad exists. Just wish there was something with more ‘flow’.

    Maybe we need to see if someone can develop some tiny micro powered device to emit a tiny charge that can be stuck on the end of a stick or sown into garments like gloves.


  6. By TheFUq on Oct 27, 2007 | Reply

    Women with isotoner gloves can easily operate many other smartphones that use a stylus or a trackball (blackberry). This is a HUGE oversight by apple. It is evident that people in nice warm california climates don’t have to consider the implications of cold weather.

  7. By Dave the Lifekludger on Oct 28, 2007 | Reply

    Thanks for your tip on isotoner gloves.

    Can you be more specific about which isotoner gloves? I see they make various types from different materials.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that many design decisions also bring with them a percieved method of use and preclude uses outside such. Fortunatel;y there can be some unforseen custom uses and that over time mass market penetration tends to solve some issues.


  8. By chris harrison on Feb 29, 2008 | Reply

    Now you can use your iPhone during winter:


  9. By Joe on Jan 18, 2009 | Reply

    The Tavo gloves seem nice, but The North Face makes a practically identical glove. Both are superior to the ‘Dot’ glove, which just seems gimmicky.

    A review of the North Face ETIP can be found here


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