How Many Hands Make a MID?

Posted on 02 November 2009, Last updated on 11 March 2010 by

Sumocat asked the question a few days ago and now Steve Litchfield brings up the same. It’s the question of one or two handed usage. I’ve been talking about it too because the N900 taught me an important lesson. I don’t like smartphones that need two hands. It goes against my main usage scenario for a phone…

I’m quickly starting to struggle with the two-handed nature of the device. The phone and image viewer applications are working in portrait mode but the feature is missing from every other part of the software. A 2-handed phone restricts mobility and I won’t be able to use this as my one-and-only if it’s not fixed soon.

My issue was with the landscape scenario but the same problem occurs when you can’t reach 100% of a touchscreen with your thumb. It’s just about possible (although somewhat unbalanced) to thumb the whole area of a 3.5 inch screen but what about a 4.3 inch one?

I really like Steve Litchfield’s take on this issue…

…the fundamental division between ‘phone’ and ‘mobile computer’ comes as a result of looking at how the device is used. I suggest that if a device is used one-handed for more than 50% of the time then it can count as a ‘phone’. In other words, a device that can be used while hanging from a tube train strap, while walking along with a bag of shopping, while driving, and so on. The whole point about a smartphone is that it takes this basic definition and adds a super-powerful OS and add-on applications – often with a miniature qwerty keyboard as well. All while keeping the primarily one-handed use and yet allowing the possibility of two-handed use when needed – such as when composing an email or watching a video.

I advise reading the whole article but here’s another snippet….

If a device is used two-handed for most of its life then it’s not really a phone at all – I’d class it as a ‘mobile computer’ or ‘Mobile Internet Device’ (MID). For example, the Nokia N900 is used 98% of the time in landscape, two-handed mode, and only rotated to portrait and one-handed use to make a voice call. Consider also the HTC HD2 – at 4.3″, its screen is so huge that you can’t hold it in one hand and comfortably operate more than a fraction of its functions. So you end up operating it two-handed and, despite the portrait form factor, it ceases to become a phone per se.

Keep an eye on the comments on the AAS article as they are sure to be interesting. If you have an opinion, let us all know below. When is a smartphone, a MID? (or MIDPhone as I, probably annoyingly, keep calling them.)

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