Prof. Dr. Patrick Baudisch

Understanding Touch

A study participant targeting crosshairs using different finger angles. Can you guess how this user is conceptualizing touch, i.e., what geometric relationship between finger and crosshairs the user is trying to maintain independent of how the finger is held? Our findings suggest that users indeed target as suggested by this illustration, i.e., by aligning finger features and outlines in a hypothesized top-down perspective.

Summary of CHI 2011 paper

Current touch devices, such as capacitive touchscreens are based on the implicit assumption that users acquire targets with the center of the contact area between finger and device. Findings from our previous work indicate, however, that such devices are subject to systematic error offsets. This suggests that the underlying assumption is most likely wrong. In this paper, we therefore revisit this assumption.

In a series of three user studies, we find evidence that the features that users align with the target are visual features. These features are located on the top of the user’s fingers, not at the bottom, as assumed by traditional devices. We present the projected center model, under which error offsets drop to 1.6mm, compared to 4mm for the traditional model. This suggests that the new model is indeed a good approximation of how users conceptualize touch input.

The primary contribution of this paper is to help understand touch—one of the key input technologies in human-computer interaction. At the same time, our findings inform the design of future touch input technology. They explain the inaccuracy of traditional touch devices as a “parallax” artifact between user control based on the top of the finger and sensing based on the bottom side of the finger. We conclude that certain camera-based sensing technologies can inherently be more accurate than contact area-based sensing.


Holz, C. and Baudisch, P. 2011. Understanding Touch. In Proceedings of CHI'11, 2501-2510.

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