Why Windows Mobile Needs A Stylus

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Ever since the iPhone was released, people have been saying that Windows Mobile needs to be finger-friendly. I agree (at least for Windows Mobile Classic and Professional; it's a moot point on the non-touchscreen Windows Mobile Standard). Requiring a stylus makes using a Windows Mobile device a little slower because you either have to remove the stylus (and maybe extend it) or you have to use your fingers and be much more careful where you tap (and you can lose more time by having to deal with any misplaced taps).

What I completely disagree with is people saying that Windows Mobile should get rid of the stylus completely. Why? Because you'd be giving up a lot.

  • You'd lose handwriting recognition. While I never got it to work well for me, a lot of people have and love it.

  • You'd lose inking in Notes. The ability to add drawings in your notes makes them more useful.

  • Selection for copy/paste operations would be more difficult. That's probably one reason that Windows Mobile Standard and the iPhone don't have full-fledged copy/paste yet. You either need to switch into a selection or cursor mode (which wastes time) or have an on-screen cursor like regular Windows with a separate way to control it (using the directional pad means having a cursor mode).

  • Scrolling large distances is more difficult. A scroll bar and stylus allows scrolling long distances in a Web page or Word document. That's one of the most annoying issues in Windows Mobile Standard — you can only scroll Web pages by a link or line at a time.

    You could have scroll bars on a finger-friendly device, but they'd have to be wider. That's anathema to some Windows Mobile users that feel scroll bars already take up too much screen real estate. You could also implement flick scrolling (like on the iPhone), but I suspect that only scrolls one page at a time or scrolls varying distances depending on how fast you flick. Either way, I can't imagine it would be easy to scroll to the end of a very long document.

  • Drawing programs would be almost nonexistent. Trying to draw with your finger instead of a stylus is like comparing fingerpainting to ink sketches.

  • The learning curve could be worse for experienced Windows Mobile users. New users might like an exclusively finger-friendly interface, but some experienced users might not.

Given those losses, why would anybody want to make Windows Mobile worse by getting rid of the stylus? So what do I suggest? It's very simple — a setting that allows switching between finger and stylus modes. Stylus mode would work like the current Windows Mobile system, with possible user interface improvements that might be shared with finger mode. Finger mode could be as much as a different selection system (for example, large graphic buttons instead of menus) and flick scrolling or as simple as more space between menu items and wider scroll bars.

Want more proof that a stylus is useful? You can even buy a stylus for the iPhone! There are enough people giving Windows Mobile the figurative finger lately without Microsoft doing it by getting rid of the stylus.

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