Touch screen use, such as repeated tapping, may lead to health problems, according to health experts, as developers look for new interfaces to prevent injury.
Most touch screen-induced injuries are minor computer-related ailments, such as repeated stress injuries, eye strain and bad posture. Touch screen laptops and mobile devices allow users room to move, but most touch screens encourage awkward neck and hand positioning, and cause muscle fatigue.

In addition, touch screens lack the tactile feedback normal keypads offer and users compensate with heavy-handed tapping, which puts additional strain on the nerves.

Touch screen devices pose more risks for injury than traditional PCs, but “unlike desktop computer setups, where there are well-established guidelines based on scientific research, recommendations for people who use touch screens are scarce and sometimes contradictory because they depend on the task you’re doing,” said Dr. Franklin Tessier, senior vice chair of radiology at the University of Alabama, writing about touch screen hazards for Info World.

Fortunately, alternative interfaces are already being created with the potential to reduce wear and tear on users.

Apple is developing solutions to address some of these problems, patenting technology that allows consumers to navigate by speaking or gesturing instead of tapping. Following Siri’s popularity, demand for voice-recognition software increased exponentially. Siri’s health benefits are likely an afterthought, but a beneficial one nonetheless.

Android already incorporates similar dictation into its devices, minimizing the need to type on the touch screen.

Also, Lenevo created a laptop that allows users to browse the Web with their eyes, reducing strain on wrists and fingers by removing the need to tap. The ability to control the device by means other than the touchpad may help users avoid injuries caused by holding their hands rigidly above the screen.

Researchers are promoting magnetic interfaces for touch screens, which will make operating the touch screen more tactile and reduce excessive tapping.

Further improvements are in the works at Apple, including a mind-reading interface that enables users to control apps using only their minds. The interface requires a pricey headset, but it reads brainwaves like an EKG. The interface is not sophisticated enough to control an entire mobile device, but researchers at Washington University already developed a preliminary thought-controlled cursor.

Touch screen users can avoid injury by approaching their device mindful of the potential damages they cause. Suggestions like positioning the devices at steep angles while reading and lower the devices to tap may make navigating the devices more comfortable.

The specific risks associated with touch screens are only recently gaining attention. Once awareness of these injuries heightens, companies will likely expand their efforts to develop new, and healthier ways, to access the devices.

Published in Mobiledia on Thursday 19th January 2012

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