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Working with Mobile Devices When Designing Data-Driven Applications

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Jesse Feiler discusses how to account for the unique features of mobile devices, such as touchscreens and their methods of manipulating text, when developing your apps.
This chapter is from the book


  • Using Your Fingers
  • Working with Text
  • Managing Mobile Files
  • Printing with a Mobile Device

Although the world of mobile devices has been expanding over the last few years, a pattern is taking shape. That pattern is centered around four types of devices:

  • Laptops of various screen sizes
  • Netbooks, which generally have smaller screen sizes than laptops
  • Tablet computers, such as iPad
  • Smartphones, such as iPhone

Laptops and netbooks generally have keyboards built into them; tablet computers and smartphones might have small keyboards, onscreen keyboards, or the ability to connect wireless keyboards to them. Many (including iPad and iPhone) have several of these options.

The combination of the relatively smaller screen size than a desktop-based computer and the use of a smaller keyboard for input is at the heart of what you have to think about when you are developing for a mobile device. Of course, at the same time, you have to consider that these mobile devices and their owners can go many places where traditional computers cannot go. The marketplace seems to be deciding that whatever drawbacks a smaller screen size might have (and, in the case of iPad, many people would argue that the screen is just fine as is) and that the smaller keyboard might pose, the greater mobility is far worth it.

The issues of screen size and keyboard, as well as what you have to think about when you are working in a world of touch control, recur throughout this book. Anyone who develops for mobile devices has to be aware of them because it is a new way of thinking about interfaces.

This chapter deals with issues common to most mobile devices. In the next chapter, you see some of the issues that are common to both mobile devices and the FileMaker database tools.

Working with Your Fingers

Pointing with your finger and pointing with a computer are two very different experiences; neither is intrinsically better than the other. It is your job as a designer of a database solution to handle both appropriately. There are two primary issues to consider:

  • A computer mouse with its pointer on the screen can point much more precisely than a fingertip can. This means that clickable items on a user interface can be much smaller than tappable items on a touch interface: Fingertips are enormous compared to the tip of a pointer on a computer screen.
  • For most people, a fingertip can move farther and faster than a computer mouse can. Even a wireless mouse needs to be picked up and moved away from the edge of a desk when you need to move the pointer on the screen a bit further.

There is another point to consider when comparing your fingertip to a computer mouse: Although you can watch the mouse pointer move along the screen as you drag the mouse on the desk, there is no comparable behavior with a touch interface. A computer mouse can participate in mouse-up tracking (that is, the movement of the mouse and its pointer on the screen without the button being down), but if your finger is not touching the screen, its movement cannot be tracked.

This means that every aspect of an interface that relies on mouse-up tracking just does not work on a touchscreen—there are no tooltips or help tags to guide people along. (Apple uses the latter term; the tooltip term and functionality were introduced in Microsoft Word 95.)

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