Virtual ring eases scrolling

December 15/22, 2004

Researchers from Brown University are aiming to improve the scroll bar.

Although scrolling through documents is extremely common, the most widespread technique for scrolling has a serious drawback: it takes your attention away from the document you are working on, interrupting your work.

Using the mouse wheel to scroll eliminates that drawback, but doesn't work well for situations that involve large touchscreens or tablet PCs.

The Brown researchers have designed a software simulation of the physical scroll ring that works like the mouse wheel but does not require the hardware.

The virtual scroll ring maps circular finger, stylus, or mouse motion into vertical scrolling. Clockwise motion moves the scroll bar down and counterclockwise motion moves it up. Bigger circles and faster motion increase scrolling speed.

Previous Interface techniques have allowed users to rotate objects with circular motion but these are based on the angle of the pointer relative to the center of the circle, which requires a fixed point on the screen. The virtual scrolling is based on distance traveled around the circle, meaning the circle can drift around the screen. This allows the user to keep visual attention on the document.

The software is well-suited for pen-based computers and interactive displays, which have limited screen and peripherals space, and which people are likely to use increasingly over the coming decade, according to the researchers.

In general, the software is an eyes-free technique for specifying values. Scrolling distance is one value. The software can enable any application with user-controlled parameters represented by slider bars or dials to be used without having to look at the control, according to the researchers.

The technique can be implemented in any software now, according to the researchers. They presented the research at the User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) 2004 conference held in Santa Fe, New Mexico October 24 to 27, 2004.

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