Android Central @ CES

We're seeing plenty of manufacturers that are trying to remove as much space around the displays of their mobile devices as possible, but few are considering that this may actually introduce usability issues. Synaptics, a touchscreen solution provider for many popular handsets, was showing off a concept tablet called Sensa at CES 2013 to show how super-skinny bezels can introduce stray thumb inputs, as well as how they might be able to fix it with a rear sensor and touch rejection. 

This use case goes like this: you've got an e-book reader app loaded on your tablet, but your thumb occasionally creeps over the frame into the touch area. While you're reading this might not do too much, assuming long press doesn't activate anything, but it becomes an issue when you want to swipe to flip pages, since it would be registered as a pinch gesture, and result in zooming into the text instead. To fix this, Synaptics slapped on some touch panels on the back of an Android tablet, and had software running which detects which hand is gripping, and rejects any input from the thumb on screen. From here, the right e-reader app can also adjust to your thumb input with something as simple as adding a larger margin to the whole page, or dynamically wrapping around the gripping thumb as it moves up and down the screen. 

Although this is entirely a tech demo, and any implementation of grip sensing and rear touch panels on tablets ultimately falls upon the manufacturers to implement, it's an interesting question to raise. How will our navigation experience on Android change once the bezel virtually disappears? BlackBerry and Palm both had interesting takes on what to do with an otherwise unused area, but eliminating it altogether seems to be the more prevalent design thinking these days. Do you guys think there's a place for rear touch input in any way? How prevalent or serious of a problem do you think smaller bezels will become? 


Reader comments

Synaptics Sensa concept tablet showcases problem (and solution) with shrinking bezels


I see two problems with this: cost and design constraints. The cost is self explanatory, but for the design constraints, think of all the phones we got recently. Which of those can have such a touch sensor with minimal changes? The iphone 4S can do it because the back is glass, but then the 5 is aluminum and I don't think there is such a thing as aluminum touch sensor. The galaxy can do it but then it will have to have a more complicated back panel like the HTC ones with the antennae built in.

Interesting you should mention the HTC One. It has very small bezels and it can be a problem handling the phone. I often launch something accidentally.

But this technology clearly wasn't intended for phone sized device. Phones are often used with one hand intentionally. Hold in palm, tap with thumb.

But with a tablet it might work. Still, I agree its an expensive solution to a problem that really doesn't NEED to exist. There is no real need to create tablets with touch/display areas running right to the edge of the device. there is little to be gained by this. Just leave the Bezels there.

The only time you notice bezels is when they cause problems because they aren't there.

Rushing to THIN got us non-satisfactory battery life. Rushing to zero Bezel is likely to bring more problems than its worth.

The iPad mini has very thin dude bezel and rejects thumb touches on the side of it. You hold it with your thumb in the edge of the screen and use it as normal with the other hand. I also like the way ios6 has the 4 finger swipe to toggle through recent apps. Hope android comes out with something similar.

Everyone commenting is thinking inside the box. Someone is going to come out with an ergonomically sound device that completely removes the bezel. Everyone will wonder why we didnt get rid of it earlier because its going too feel like common sense. Its going to be what capacitive was for the touch screen

Agreed. All the way into 2007, just about every handset OEM we showed handset form-factor capacitive touchscreen demos to said, "Why would anyone ever buy a phone that had a big, expensive, power-hungry display and pair that with a touch input system that didn't work with a glove or a pen [pre-dated the the technology we now use in the Lumina 920]?" Say what you will, but I can't seem to find a handset with a physical keypad these days...