Kadansky Logo

Personalized Computer Services

(617) 484-6657


How I Work





Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 6 Issue 8August 2012
In This Issue
When I Tap on My iPad or iPhone, I Get More Frustration Than Results!
14th Reason I Don't Like Cloud (Online) Backup and Storage Services
Do you have an iPad or iPhone but you just can't seem to "tap" reliably or accurately? Is this driving you crazy? Read on for my advice on how to handle this growing problem.
When I Tap on My iPad or iPhone, I Get More Frustration Than Results!

I could tell she found it frustrating, but she wanted to learn and was doing the best she could. She had no trouble using a regular computer keyboard and mouse, but when she tapped on that iPad screen with her index finger, most of the time nothing would happen because she would miss the icon she wanted and land on the blank space next to it. After 3 or 4 tries she would finally tap the icon correctly, but she couldn't understand why it was so difficult. I gave her some suggestions and her technique improved, but later that day as I thought about that client and how other people must be struggling with similar problems, I wondered whether anyone had made a tool or stylus that might help. I searched online and was pleased by what I found.

The old touch-screen technology
With the previous generation of devices like Palm Pilots and older smartphones this wasn't so difficult. They used "resistive" touch-screen technology, which required that you tap on the screen using a metal or plastic stylus, and the (mild) force would cause two flexible conductive layers to touch. What mattered was the (small amount of) physical force you used, and it didn't matter whether you used a stylus or your fingernail or a toothpick, as long as it had a small tip.

The new touch-screen technology
Newer touch-screen devices like the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and other tablet devices, as well as newer smartphones (including Droid, Samsung Galaxy, etc.) all use "capacitive" touch-screens, often made of glass. These devices have hard, inflexible transparent surfaces and a special electrostatic field that only reacts when something with the right electrical properties comes close enough to distort that field. They don't notice physical taps from a stylus or fingernail. Instead, they detect when an electrical conductor or capacitor (like your finger) comes close enough to affect their electric field.

The new problems
While many users find these new capacitive touchscreens fun and easy to use, plenty of others find them frustrating and confusing. I think there are a combination of things that some people struggle with:
  • Your finger is big. Since you're looking down at the screen from above, compared to the size of the icon or button you're trying to tap, your finger is big enough to hide it from view, so as your fingertip lands on the screen you simply can't see whether it's on target or not.
  • Your finger's "landing area" is big and soft. As your finger makes contact with the screen, it lands and spreads out, touching many pixels. The device considers all of those pixels, picks one in the middle, and that's where your tap is reported. If your finger isn't centered on your intended target, your tap may miss it.
  • The end of your finger is curved. You may not be aware of the actual portion of your fingertip that comprises the "landing area."
  • Your skin's natural dryness or oiliness (or residual hand lotion), along with the electrical properties of your body may all make a difference in how well your taps are detected.
  • When they're unsuccessful or frustrated, most people start tapping harder. This doesn't cause any problems directly, but that may lead to more mistaken taps and increased frustration.
Solution #1: Study and improve your technique
If you're having these problems, the best place to start is to examine and improve your technique. (It may be helpful to ask a patient friend to observe and give you feedback.)

I suggest:
  • As you tap, try to concentrate on landing on the center of the item. You may find that focusing your attention and adjusting your posture make a difference.
  • Try to observe whether your "misses" are "high" or "low," or to the left or right of your intended targets. (It may be helpful for you or your helper to lean down and observe your taps from the side.) A small adjustment like this can greatly improve your accuracy.
  • If you usually hold the device in one hand and tap it with the other, see whether leaning your "device hand" on a steady chair or doorframe (or placing the device on a table or counter) helps improve your accuracy when tapping with the other hand.
  • Try tapping with the tip of your finger (held perpendicular to the screen, as you might tap on a keyboard or typewriter) instead of the pad of your finger. This changes the angle of your tapping, reducing the size of your "landing area." If you have long fingernails, consider trimming them shorter to help with this.
  • If you have trouble "typing" accurately on the on-screen keyboard, orient the device as Landscape (wide) to make the keyboard larger, and leave the "key-click" sound effect turned on to get helpful feedback while tapping.
Solution #2: Try a capacitive stylus
After helping that client improve her iPad tapping technique, I searched online for "iPad stylus" and found a whole new category of computer accessories I hadn't seen before! I found capacitive styli that were similar in size and shape to pens or pencils. There were also many different types, sizes, and styles to choose from.

I now have a number of clients who, having struggled with finger-tapping on their iPads, are now happily using a capacitive stylus.

My initial experience was over a year ago, and as I update my research today I see that these modern styli are even more popular, varied, and available than ever before. They've become common accessories, definitely worth a try if the idea might work for you.

What's a capacitive stylus like?
Here are the basic features:
  • A typical capacitive stylus has a tip (or "nib") made of soft conductive foam or silicon rubber, some use fabric or other unusual materials. In general the tips range in diameter from 5 mm to 8 mm. This is larger than a typical ballpoint pen tip (0.5 to 1.2 mm) or mechanical pencil lead (0.5 to 0.7 mm).
  • Some vendors use the alternate terms "stylus pen" or "tablet pen" or "touch screen pen," but don't be mislead by these names. While a few styli do actually include a built-in ballpoint pen (on the opposite end), most don't.
  • Some also include a pocket clip, protective cap, laser pointer, and other features.
  • Some have a 3.5mm prong attached by a piece of string, intended to help you not misplace it by letting you plug it into the headset jack of your phone or tablet when not in use.
  • Simple ones range from $1 to $6, fancier ones (or ones with more features or special designs) can cost up to $50. For basic use, in my experience the less expensive ones work just fine. For more specialized use, I recommend reading all the reviews you can before you buy.
  • Even if you get a capacitive stylus that may have been marketed specifically for, say, iPad use, know that it will actually work on any capacitive touchscreen, including an iPhone, Kindle, etc.
Should you get a capacitive stylus?
Here are some things to consider:

  • A stylus' tip is smaller and rounder than your finger, making it easier to tap small targets.
  • If you're outside in cold weather, you have to take off your glove to use your finger to tap, but you can keep your gloves on when using a stylus.
  • A stylus can be easier and more accurate than using your finger for handwriting, drawing, sketching, etc.
  • Using a stylus reduces the accumulation of fingerprints and smudges on the screen.
  • It's another accessory to carry around and keep track of.
  • Some styli have a protective cap that you remove before use, but for some the cap doesn't fit on the other end, adding yet another small item to keep track of, unless you simply leave the cap in a drawer or throw it away.
  • A stylus won't help with gestures that require you to touch the screen with two or more fingers ("pinch," "spread," "rotate," etc.), unless you employ multiple styli and have a talent for using chopsticks!
You can also get capacitive gloves, sometimes called touchscreen gloves, iPhone gloves, texting gloves, etc. They're handy for use in cold weather, and are made with conductive fibers in the fingertips, so you'd use them instead of a stylus.

  • Touchscreens are here to stay. Capacitive touchscreens have fewer moving parts and higher accuracy, but drive many users crazy.
  • Examining and adjusting your tapping technique may help.
  • A capacitive stylus (or capacitive gloves) may also help.
Where to go from here
14th Reason I Don't Like Cloud (Online) Backup and Storage Services

After publishing June's newsletter, "13 Reasons I Don't Like Cloud (Online) Backup and Storage Services" (http://kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2012/2012_06_27.html), another potential problem with online services came to mind:


When I want to delete a document (or a folder of documents) from a regular hard drive or flash drive that I use with my computer, I have a number of options:
  • I can use the regular Delete and Empty Recycle Bin (Empty Trash) functions provided by my computer's operating system, with the knowledge that someone with the right forensic ("undelete") software might be able to recover what I've deleted at a later time. I also can choose to use special "shredding" or "wiping" software to ensure that such a recovery will probably never happen.
  • I can physically destroy the hard drive (or flash drive or CD or DVD) where that data is stored, and be confident that no one will ever be able to recover that data.
  • I can also choose to "shred" or physically destroy all backup copies of that data.
However, when you "delete" your data from an online storage or backup service:
  • You have no control over exactly how the service will perform the deletion.
  • Many services keep your data available for days or weeks after you delete, which is a welcome feature if you delete something by accident, but not at all desirable if you want your data to be destroyed immediately.
  • You also have no control over how long their backup copies remain available.
See also "After you delete something, is it really gone?" (http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2007_09_19.html)
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2012 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

Printer-friendly version

Subscribe to this free newsletter

Go to the Newsletter Archive



To the Top

All original content copyright © 2002 - 2010 Martin Kadansky

Site designed and developed by and copyright © 2002 - 2007 ozbarron