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Pourang Irani

Blurring Boundaries: Creating Input Devices with Mixed Input Modes


An input device’s positioning capability and input mode are two key properties for identifying how best to optimize the device for everyday computing tasks. For example, the computer mouse employs relative positioning with an indirect input mode. This makes the mouse well-suited for pixel-level precision even for interacting with screens that are far from the user. On the other hand, the digital pen operates using absolute positioning with a direct input mode. This relieves it from using any complex control-display transfer function and makes it an ideal device for tight-knit input, such as with mobile devices. However, within the last decade, we began observing an emergence of input techniques that blur the rigid boundaries, between absolute/relative positioning and direct/indirect input, to create a class of their own. These techniques were designed to specifically solve issues concerning user interface complexities, novel usage contexts or to support novel computing platforms.

Using several examples, I offer a broad overview of this class of techniques, discuss their inherent strengths and point at the potential overheads they incur if not designed carefully. I draw an analogy of these techniques with Guiard’s model for bi-manual interaction and discuss how to potentially reformulate Fitts’ law to support pointing with these devices. I finally present guidelines for blurring input modes and demonstrate how we used these to design a device for interacting with head-worn displays, such as the HoloLens. I end with open-ended questions on how to advance our work on input devices that blend input capabilities.


Pourang Irani is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair in Ubiquitous Analytics. His research sits at the crossroads in Human-Computer Interaction and Information Visualization. More specifically, his work concentrates on designing and studying novel interaction methods and systems for giving end-users efficient access to various information structures (maps, spatio-temporal data and video) for a variety of computing devices (smartphones, wearable devices and large shared surfaces) while evaluating their efficacy under different contexts and environments (lab, and in the field). This has placed his research at the core of the emerging interdisciplinary field of Ubiquitous Analytics which involves the development of interactive and visualization tools for exploring information "anywhere" and "anytime”.

Page last modified on July 01, 2018, at 12:18 PM