How Many Hands Make a MID?

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.)

17 Comments For This Post

  1. Steve 'Chippy' Paine says:

    New article: How Many Hands Make a MID?

  2. turn_self_off says:

    a very interesting question.

    i know there was a very heated debate over on when it was first learned that rotation would not work on every program in maemo5, tho many of the third party ones (mauku and conboy for example) is working to support it, iirc.

    just tested with the N800, and i can barely thumb the other side of the screen if i hold it in portrait. and thats a 4.1″ screen, iirc.

    but its not only the screen size, but the sensor type used, and the gui design. small gui elements are hell to manipulate with a finger, and resistive needs you to use a nail.

    btw, one handed use makes any interface that relies on gestures somewhat pointless, no?

  3. Vakeros says:

    If you can utilise all the phone functions one-handed then I would say it is a phone. If you then need two hands for other uses then it is a mobile computer.
    It can be both a phone and a mobile computer, or it can be one or the other.
    When I want to use it as a phone I want (demand) to be able to use it one-handed. But when I want more complex apps then I want it to be big enough for comfortable two-handed use.

  4. squirrel says:

    I think iPhone is an exaample of such device

  5. TeronHero says:

    the Pre is hands down the best 1-handed ive ever used, even the iPhone is slightly too large to be used completely & comfortably 1 handed in EVERY scenario.

  6. Realty says:

    I agree with Vakeros, as long as the phone part functions with one hand who cares if you need two hands to best utilize the other functions? I think Steve Litchfield has chosen an odd place to draw the line between phone and MID.

  7. xemone says:

    Along the same lines……if a device is considered a MID first (larger screen), phone second then I’d expect two-handed usage to be more comfortable. In the case of a device that’s a phone first (smaller screen) but has MID features one handed usage is predominant.

    One way to circumvent this issue is to rewrite the basic design rules vis-a-vis the common 16:9 screen ratio. That may be the reason why Intel chose the 21:9 aspect ratio for what I reckon its quintessential Moorestown device. LGs new chocolate, the BL40 also uses this flexible form factor.

    It’s slim yet wide enough for most websites as you’ll probably be scrolling only up and down versus the “swipe to the right, then left, pinch to zoom in, again to zoom out, swipe up and down” type of motion akin to most touchscreen smartphones.

    This form factor still doesn’t address the whole issue on a MID since you still cannot thumb the info/task bar glued to the top-end of your screen to check on your appointments. However, using a virtual Motorola Q layout with virtual buttons on the bottom half of your screen, you can enjoy the benefits of one-handed use when you choose.

    I own Samsung Blackjack II and inasmuch as I love the comfort of having the full qwerty on the bottom and the screen on top while texting, I sometimes wish I could have a HTC Touch HD2 mixed in there somewhere somehow (with my keyboard).

    I personally believe that for the MID first-phone second device (as Intel emphatically describes its Moorestown platform) to be occasionally used with one hand/thumb with ease, it should be no wider than 62mm.

    It should be noted that by nature MIDs are devices that straddle two worlds, worlds apart and for them to keep their name and description, they’ll always have to stretch a bit to reach across. Regardless of their CPU architecture, how thin they can get, or their power consumption their business end (screen, keyboard and other user input devices) will still have to be unique in order for them to gain ground. If some MIDs are trying to be really good smartphones and others really good pocket computers, consumers will get confused by their lack and/or presence of certain features and may even get annoyed by their bulk (when they try too hard to be PCs).

  8. Patrick says:

    4.3″ screen has 23% bigger screen area than 3.5″ screen, 3.5″ screen has 8% bigger screen area than 3.2″ one. There will be different screen sizes & device sizes.. everyone will find a fit. I really think that this kind of talk is really futile. It’s like talking about cars, someone likes trucks, someone likes sedans, someone likes a compact and someone likes a moped car.. every one of them has a buyer. Nuff this B.S. chit chat. ;)

  9. says:

    and most seems to spend hours upon hours talking about the latest sports models…

  10. xemone says:

    everyone will find it? hardly. do you currently own a MID? If yes, how’re you using it? As a phone or as a portable internet device? If no, why not? I don’t expect anyone texts on their S5 :-) But I think most people browse the web. It’s easy to say there’s going to be an awesome variety of screen sizes to choose from but I highly doubt that’s going to have a huge impact on how you choose.

  11. Patrick says:

    No, typical MID is just too big for my everyday every-where-i-go usage. Max for portability is 3.5″ device, bigger than that is just not feasible for my taste unless i lag a murse with me. I have a 9″ eeepc netbook that sits in back end of the car if i need something to do on the run. I use old HTC TyTn 2 for professional stuff (PIM, server monitoring) but adding full internet (flash & flash video) in my hand will help a lot, i use twitter clients and there are many links in tweets so that will remove the need to use netbook or desktop pc for quick look@s.

  12. xemone says:

    Just too big for your everyday every-where-i-go usage? My point exactly. Everyone wants MID functionality in their TyTn 2. Therefore MIDs cannot stick to the same rules that currently define smartphones. MIDs are trying to give you the portability and flexibility of a not-so-wide, not too bulky device while still giving you a screen size and resolution comfortable enough to do basic PIM, texting, picture viewing, music playing, notes taking/reading and the more complex gaming and a full web browsing experience that’s as close to your laptop as possible.

    The MID isn’t just a new device category because of what it’s trying to do but what it has to be to do that… rules have to be written. I believe Intel can b successful with this new venture…..Apple did with multitouch. In the pre-multitouch era, my shiny old iPAQ 3800 was at the top of it’s game with it’s stylus and hard-touch screen. Now even Microsoft lists multitouch capability as a basic feature of future hardware running it’s Windows Mobile 7 OS. Just like the slab-like Qtek 9090 had to evolve into the smarter and more usable HTC TyTn 2 phone….get ready for the next x86-packing HTC device :-)

    Intel is bringing the next evolution of smartphones with the “internet in your pocket”. If they keep it up,, even apple will have to upgrade to the next standard (Intel’s standard) just like everyone’s now upgrading to apple’s standard (multitouch).

  13. John in Norway says:

    If everybody bought a Nokia E90 this argument would be mute. :)

  14. says:

    you may well have a point there, as the communicator series is the one nokia series thats been tempting me, even while i had nokia blacklisted based on high apparent failure rate…

    hmm, how about a E90 with maemo5?! :D

  15. Patrick says:

    Sidekick note, Firefox Mobile on N900

  16. xemone says:

    Cool. does the device have to plugged into the laptop/desktop for the Weave/Tab syncing to work or is that wirelessly over wifi or bluetooth?

    Smells like google though….with all the customization options.

  17. Patrick says:

    Syncing goes over the Weave server (Mozilla’s or yours if you want total control).

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