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Author Topic:   Touch Screen Interface
jimh posted 01-10-2010 10:48 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
The announcement of the new Garmin 700 seven-inch chart plotter with GPS and SONAR got me thinking about the general topic of a touch screen interface on electronic devices used on boats. I have not used a touch screen device on a boat, but I have used several touch screen devices, both large and small, in other environments. Touch screen interfaces are not particularly new, but recently they have become more common, and perhaps the most widely used example is the Apple iPhone. A few comments about the touch screen interface follow.

The electronic technologies that provide the possibility of a touch screen are well explained in a Wikipedia article. As far as I know, however, any touch screen employs the concept of an additional (transparent) layer or coating on the display which detects the location of the touch. In a marine environment, the touch screen technology must be tolerant of moisture on the screen, and also of moisture on the finger touching the screen. Garmin's success with this technology is quite an achievement. The touch screen display must be more expensive than a non-touch screen display of the same size. On the other hand, a touch screen interface for control eliminates other user input controls, saving their cost.

A touch screen interface works best when the user interface has been specifically designed for use with a touch screen. The virtual buttons and other user input areas on the screen must be designed specifically for use in a touch screen, otherwise they are often too small and too hard to use. User interface designs suitable for a mouse input are often not good designs for a touch screen due to the difficulty in pointing precisely with a finger tip as a cursor movement device. On the Garmin instruments with touch screen input, there appears to be no other control surfaces. I assume the touch screen input is the only way to use the device, and the user interface was designed specifically for touch screen use. This likely makes it much better than interfaces adapted from a high-precision mouse input device.

Since I don't have first-hand experience with a marine touch screen input device, I invite those that do to comment and answer these questions:

--how well does the touch screen interface work? Can you access all the functions and controls in a rapid and efficient manner?

--how has the touch screen stood up to the marine environment? Does water or moisture on the screen or on your finger affect operation?

--do the on-screen control elements steal significant screen display space from the other information displayed on the screen?

glen e posted 01-10-2010 11:19 AM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Let's take them one at a time. My expereince comes from conversing with about 50 touchscreen owners in 2009. I have never seen or heard of a touchscreen failure.

--how well does the touch screen interface work? Can you access all the functions and controls in a rapid and efficient manner?

You can get to every thing via touch. Any screen always has a main menu button on it. It is no different than button except in one situation - setting a way point. In that function it is much quicker as you just scroll with your finger to move the map and touch where you want the point - no more scrolling with a slower 4 point pad.

--how has the touch screen stood up to the marine environment? Does water or moisture on the screen or on your finger affect operation?

Gamin and Raymarine's (EXXXW series) screen are total glass so they hold up very well. If you are fishing and have very dirty hands, you can dirty up the screen but any solution will clean it quickly. The only time the screen becomes ineffective is the right circumstances in extremely hot, wet weather. (bahamas) It can cause the button to momentarily hesitate when you push it as your wet finger is "cooled" for a second. I have heard this from 2 owners IN A YEAR. One other person remarked it was hard to hit the on screen button traveling 60 mph in a big multi engine CC.

--do the on-screen control elements steal significant screen display space from the other information displayed on the screen?

No. In addition the unit is physically smaller for mounting while giving the same screen space as a button unit.

Summary: they work very well, but expensive - about 40% more for the same button unit. This is why the 700 is a bit more than the similar Lowrance product.

Hoosier posted 01-10-2010 12:16 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
My Lowrance XOG is a touch screen only device. It has a small 3.5" screen so the buttons take up a lot of screen real estate, but they are only up when doing data manipulation. The big issue with a touch screen in any moving platform is fitting the keys accurately. Handheld devices are easier to use accurately because of the natural stabilization of one's hand. Panel mounted units are harder to "hit' accurately underway.
jimh posted 01-10-2010 01:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I should have noted that my inquiry was along two lines:

--how well the touch screen technology works in the marine environment, and

--how well the touch screen interface design is accomplished on the various units that employ them.

On the technical aspect of the touch screen devices, it is good to hear that in the main they work well in the marine environment, despite the inherent risk of moisture.

On the interface design the comments are also encouraging. In particular, Garmin appears to have a strong background in the use of touch screen interfaces to their instrumentation. When I search on GOOGLE for information, I found many mentions of touch screen interfaces on Garmin non-marine products. From this I would infer that Garmin probably has skill in the design of the on-screen controls to permit good operation via the touch screen technique, and Garmin probably has more experience with interface design of this type than other marine electronic manufacturers who do not have extensive non-marine touch screen interface product lines.

I have used some devices which allow for control both by touch screen and by mouse. The size and position of the on-screen control elements for use with the touch screen are made much larger and widely separated than would be used for a conventional graphic user interface. When used with a mouse they seem rather clumsy and over-large, but when used as a touch screen they work well.

Feejer posted 01-10-2010 03:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for Feejer  Send Email to Feejer     
I've had my iPhone for 3 years now and welcome the technology to the world of boating. I do have one concern, do the Garmin touch screens have a coating on them? My 2010C and later 498C have a coating which over some time flaked off. The 2010C was sent back but the new screen lasted about a month.
glen e posted 01-10-2010 03:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
I see touch and non touch existing for quite a few years in the future. Remember, touch is not the holy grail - as it's 40% more expensive by a company that has huge resources to get the price as low as possible. The simple fact the 700 has it shows the price is coming down, but the 10 inch screens and above that are still very expensive in comparison to a button unit.

In addition, as Jim says, I think it's a big screen item and not built for smaller 5 inch type screens. The button to push has to be pretty big, and the smaller units don't have enough screen real estate.

bluewaterpirate posted 01-10-2010 04:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
There is no coating on the Garmin touch screens they are glass as is the new Raymarine series. As a side note, the Garmin auto and marine touch screen share commonality in screen navigation. As Glen pointed out buttons -vs- touch screen technlogy will both be around for a long time to come.

The most functional user interface of the touch screen is not having to use the cursor to select chart information. You just touch the item you want (i.e. bouy, tide station, marinia, chart information) and it displays on the screen.


glen e posted 01-10-2010 06:17 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Laz - take the coating off permanently and run with it "clean". Windex with ammonia and a microfiber towel and it's gone in 3 minutes. We do it all the time. The Merc Vesselview comes with the same crap coating on it. I took it off right out of the box. 18 months later it still looks perfect. Garmin got rid of the coating with the 4000 series. They now add some anti-reflectivity under the glass where it is protected.
SJUAE posted 01-10-2010 10:09 PM ET (US)     Profile for SJUAE    
Like most I have used many touch screen devices but never on a marine system.

I would guess on small screen size the menus should only appear on first press anywhere on screen and then auto hide again after a preset period.

The biggest difference on touch screens is how cascading menus appear.

With a mouse and/or a cursor more precise selecting is possible. The menus can list more detail even on a relatively small screen and sub menus are normally by convention accessed by going to the right with mouse or cursor.

As a touch screen will have to allow for an area suitably sized for selection by a person’s digit even medium to large screens will not be able to display long list menu’s and sub menu’s so easily, other than by scrolling.

So often each page is replaced with a different page with options to be selected, opposed to cascading. The IPhones makes this easier with the flick method of moving between pages.

I don’t see this as a downside for touch screens other than on small screens where an excessive number of pages maybe required and most will assume the interface is clearer just because the menu’s will appear larger.

Personally I prefer the tactile response of a physical click of a button/cursor whilst on the move and repeated operations become easier (eg 3 down, 2 across).

Touch screens just take a little while to learn and you soon become accustom to the interface and forget your previous method(s).


hauptjm posted 01-13-2010 12:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for hauptjm    
As to durability in a harsh/marine environment, consider that the fast food chains almost exclusively utilize touchscreen technology. Used in both the friendly "front of house" (register) and the very unfriendly "back of house" (kitchen, food prep, etc.)

If you think of the heat, humidity, dirty hands, liquids, etc. they are exposed to under these conditions, I would think they would be fairly tough.

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