Traditionally, there have been two general ways to give commands to a computer: looking at a list of commands and selecting one, or giving commands through controls located by feel. Two familiar examples of these are the well-known methods to enter text using a keyboard: hunt-and-peck and touch typing. But despite the name, the touch screens used on smartphones and tablet computers provide no tactile feedback, making them far better at hunt-and-peck interaction than at interaction that resembles touch typing.
In typing, hunt-and-peck is performed while looking at the keyboard. The typist looks for a letter, moves his finger to it, and presses the key. Typos, or errors in typing, might not be noticed immediately. Touch typing, on the other hand, is performed while looking at something else. A typist using touch typing memorizes the locations of letters relative to a home position, such as index fingers on F and J in the QWERTY layout, and blindly moves the fingers to hit these locations, correcting minor position errors based on the shapes of the edges of the keys. Keyboards have extra bumps on the F and J keys precisely to allow touch typing. Touch typing takes longer to learn but enables entry of text twice as fast with greater accuracy because the typist can immediately see errors as the words appear on the screen.
One can draw an analogy between other input devices and these typing styles. Use of a mouse or a touch screen is similar to hunt and peck: the player sees an object on the screen, moves the cursor to the object, and activates it. This model is ideal for interacting with items in a collection, such as tapping icons to start applications, tapping titles of e-mail messages to open them, tapping links in a web browser to open linked pages, tapping an editable text area to set the insertion point, drawing a box around an area of a picture to apply an effect, and so forth. It's also good for entering positions, such as adding lines or brush strokes to a picture. But it's far from ideal for entering large amounts of text or for giving commands without looking away. Use of arrow keys or a gamepad is far more similar to touch typing, as the player feels for where the buttons are using his thumbs while watching the action on the screen.
The large touch screens on phones and tablets aren't very useful for touch typing because they are completely flat, with no edges on the on-screen controls to provide tactile feedback to the thumbs. For example, it's difficult to dial a number on an iPhone without looking. Traditionally, people who send a lot of text messages have tended to choose devices with a smaller screen and a miniature physical keyboard, such as BlackBerry products, or a keyboard that slides out, such as the original Motorola Droid. Devices that rely on an on-screen keyboard have had to incorporate sophisticated spell-checking software to overcome the limitations of rapid hunt and peck.
Since the decline of the text adventure in the late 1980s, few games require actual typing per se apart from the in-game chat in online multiplayer games. But the distinction between hunt-and-peck and touch typing still applies to games, as some video game genres are inherently more amenable to one method or the other. For example, first-person shooters work better with a mouse because the player is aiming at targets at arbitrary places on screen. Strategy games need hunt-and-peck because the player is quickly selecting units at arbitrary places on screen, but the user is also giving commands to these units, often through touch typing on a keyboard. This is why console ports of FPS and RTS tend to be less satisfying: gamepads are poor for hunt-and-peck.
Platformers, shoot-em-ups, and fighting games, on the other hand, are traditionally played with touch typing. A gamepad or joystick controls the motion of a character relative to its current position, and trigger buttons are bound to jumping or use of various tools. The controllers for Konami's dancing games have several pressure-sensitive areas corresponding to directions on the screen, and in all but the cheapest soft pads, these areas are raised or recessed to let the player feel the sensors' positions with the feet.
Nintendo has designed many of its controllers to make touch typing easier. With few exceptions, no more than two buttons of the same shape are in a single group. The GameCube controller, for example, makes the B button smaller and the X and Y buttons kidney-shaped. The Control Pad itself has a cross-shaped edge and a slight concavity on the face. One exception is the Super Famicom controller, which has identical A, B, X, and Y buttons. Nintendo corrected this in the North American Super NES controller, which gives the X and Y buttons a bowl-shaped indentation to distinguish them from the convex A and B buttons. Other exceptions include the C buttons on the Nintendo 64 controller and the A, B, X, and Y buttons on the Nintendo DS and 3DS, but in these cases, the buttons are small enough and close enough together that the player can position the thumb by feeling three buttons at once.
The Turbo Touch 360 controllers by Triax, which the gaming press has panned, replaced the directional pad with a touch-sensitive panel. The player had no tactile feedback about when a direction was pressed, but the player could feel the octagonal edge of the recessed touch panel and a set of ridges within the touch panel indicating the four cardinal directions, and the physical buttons under the right thumb remained unchanged.
A lot of video games originally designed for gamepads suffer when translated to a device whose only input is a touch screen, such as a smartphone or a tablet. These generally use an on-screen gamepad with a directional pad at the bottom left, trigger buttons at the bottom right, and the action in the middle of the screen. Because these controls lack even the minimal position feedback of the ridges and bezel of the Turbo Touch 360's directional pad, players report missing the target often when they try to press on-screen trigger buttons without looking. Textured touch surfaces for smartphones are being developed, but as of 2012, they're still a couple years off.
This wouldn't be a problem if there weren't such a gap in developer eligibility between devices designed for hunt-and-peck use and devices designed for touch typing use. Smartphones and tablets allow the general public to develop applications for a nominal fee, but they tend to have a touch screen as their only input device. External keyboards and gamepads that use a Bluetooth wireless connection are available, such as iCade and iControlPad products. Games for Android devices can use input methods provided by applications such as Wiimote Controller by C.C.P. Cre@ions, which allows connecting a Wii Remote to an Android device through Bluetooth. So are a few fairly obscure Android tablets with built-in gamepads.
But it's hard to sell a video game that relies on these because the customer is unlikely to already own one, nor are they likely to buy one just to play one game. Even if someone already owns a Wii Remote, the instructions to configure the input device might be difficult for a novice to follow. Well-known devices that come with gamepads typically have the far more selective developer criteria traditionally associated with video game consoles. The major console makers tend to require what Nintendo calls "relevant video game industry experience": having moved to another state and worked for another company for several years. This ends up shutting less experienced developers, such as those fresh out of university or those moving to games from a programming position in another industry, out of entire genres, as seen in the history of Bob's Game.
- ZAGGkeys FLEX Tablet Keyboard & Stand Accessed 2012-11-24.
- See citations in Wikipedia:Touch typing#Alphanumeric entry
- Craig Harris. "Top 10 Tuesday: Worst Game Controllers". IGN, 2006-02-21. Accessed 2012-09-16.
- XJ Selman. "6 Sci-Fi Technologies You'll Soon Have on Your Phone". Cracked, 2012-09-09. Accessed 2012-09-28.
- Archos GamePad: 7 inch Android tablet with built-in gaming buttons. Liliputing. Accessed 2012-10-21.
- JXD S5100 Android gaming handheld now available for $106. Liliputing. Accessed 2012-10-21.
- Rich Brown. "Wikipad delayed for last-minute tweaks". CNET, 2012-11-02. Accessed 2012-11-06.
- Slashdot comment by shutdown -p now