Whether or not the just-announced “Death of Moore’s Law” will affect gadgets like Carl Anderson thinks it will hit servers and chips remains to be seen. But as gadgets become increasingly smaller, a new set of usage problems arise. Touch screens are getting so small that the tool used to interact with them – the human finger –can be a big hindrance to smooth computing. “On first sight, touch-screens seem to allow for particular compactness, because they integrate input and screen into the same physical space," wrote Microsoft researcher Patrick Baudisch on his website. "The opposite is true, however, because the user’s fingers occlude contents and prevent precision.”

“The scientific term for this is the fat finger problem,” Baudisch said last week at CHI, the annual meeting of Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, in Boston.

The Microsoft researcher believes that the key to small devices is having the pointer on the back. To fight the fat finger, Baudisch has developed the nanoTouch, which has a 2.4-inch screen and whose pointing is controlled by a touchpad on the back. It was created to compare the efficacy of back and front screen pointers on devices smaller than three inches.

In order to acclimate the user to back-of-screen pointing, nanoTouch employs an eye-catching feature: pseudo transparency.

"We're using a principle called pseudo transparency so that we can pretend we can see through the screen and as we do this we see the document we're manipulating, we can see the finger and we get no occlusion and precise manipulation," Baudisch said.

While only a teaching tool, pseudo transparency is a curiosity that’s attention-grabbing in and of itself.

By Mark Alvarez