Researchers find the best way to press a button

When all you have is a finger everything looks like a button . But what happens if you’re unable to press buttons or, more likely, we begin using robots and other tools to interact with the real world? That’s what researchers at Aalto University, Finland, and KAIST, South Korea wanted to find out when they started examining how humans tap buttons.

“This research was triggered by admiration of our remarkable capability to adapt button-pressing”, said Professor Antti Oulasvirta at Aalto University. “We push a button on a remote controller differently than a piano key. The press of a skilled user is surprisingly elegant when looked at terms of timing, reliability, and energy use. We successfully press buttons without ever knowing the inner workings of a button. It is essentially a black box to our motor system. On the other hand, we also fail to activate buttons, and some buttons are known to be worse than others.”

During their study, they assessed the push buttons – buttons with actual travel – were more usable than touch buttons and that the best buttons were the ones that reacted at time of maximum impact. The researchers created something called “Impact Activation.” These buttons activate only when they are fully pressed, thereby ensuring that users will know exactly when they are and are not tapping a key on a keyboard or even a musical instrument.

From their release:

The simulations shed new light on what happens during a button press. One problem the brain must overcome is that muscles do not activate as perfectly as we will, but every press is slightly different. Moreover, a button press is very fast, occurring within 100 milliseconds, and is too fast for correcting movement. The key to understanding button-pressing is therefore to understand how the brain adapts based on the limited sensations that are the residue of the brief press event.

The researchers argue that the key capability of the brain is a probabilistic model: The brain learns a model that allows it to predict a suitable motor command for a button. If a press fails, it can pick a very good alternative and try it out. “Without this ability, we would have to learn to use every button like it was new,” tells Professor Byungjoo Lee from KAIST. After successfully activating the button, the brain can tune the motor command to be more precise, use less energy and to avoid stress or pain. “These factors together, with practice, produce the fast, minimum-effort, elegant touch people are able to perform.”

How can we use this information in our daily lives? Well, this research suggests that high-travel, clicky keys with switches from Cherry and other “tactile” keyboard makers could be better for us, neurologically, than keyboards with less precise travel. Further, it shows us that the best interfaces are physical and not touchscreen, something that anyone who has tried to play touchscreen-based fast-twitch video games can attest.

Further, the researchers discovered that button pressing is an acquired skill and perhaps we were right to force ourselves to let Mavis Beacon teach us keyboarding. “We believe that the brain picks up these skills over repeated button pressings that start already as a child. What appears easy for us now has been acquired over years,” said Lee.

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Investigations into Apple’s iPhone Battery Slowdowns Spread to Italy and South Korea

Italy and South Korea on Thursday joined a growing list of countries in which class-action lawsuits and government investigations into Apple’s iPhone battery slowdowns are underway.

Italy’s antitrust body revealed it had opened a probe into allegations that Apple used iOS updates to slow older smartphones and push clients into buying new models (via Reuters). The Italian watchdog said Apple had failed to inform customers that the updates might have a negative impact on the performance of their phones, suggesting the company might have infringed four separate articles of the national consumers’ code.

In a first among the recent wave of battery probes, Samsung is also suspected of orchestrating “a general commercial policy taking advantage of the lack of certain components to curb the performance times of their products and induce consumers to buy new versions,” said the Italian watchdog. If found guilty, the two companies risk multi-million euro fines.

Meanwhile, a South Korean consumer group has filed a criminal complaint against Apple CEO Tim Cook, accusing his company of defrauding iPhone users by slowing down devices without warning to compensate for poor battery performance.

In its complaint, filed Thursday, the advocacy group Citizens United for Consumer Sovereignty accused Apple of destruction of property and fraud. According to Reuters, the group also represents around 120 plaintiffs in a civil damage suit filed against Apple earlier in January.

Apple has already admitted that it slows down some older iPhones with degraded batteries during times of peak power usage in order to prevent unexpected shutdowns, and accepts that it should have provided a clearer explanation when it introduced the power management feature in iOS 10.2.1.

Following an apology, Apple has implemented a battery replacement program that allows all customers with an iPhone 6, 6s, 7, 6 Plus, 6s Plus, 7 Plus, and SE to replace their batteries for a reduced fee through the end of 2018.

Apple has also said it is introducing better battery monitoring features in a future iOS update, which will include the ability for customers to turn off the power management feature it introduced in iOS 10.2.1. However, despite efforts to rectify the issue, the company is now facing lawsuits, state investigations, or consumer group probes in countries including China, France, and the U.S. over the controversy.

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Apple’s 500th Store and First in Korea Opening January 27 Ahead of 2018 Winter Olympics

Apple today announced that its first retail store in South Korea opens on Saturday, January 27, at 10:00 a.m. local time, just a few weeks prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on Friday, February 9.

The store is located in the upscale Garosu-gil shopping area in the Gangnam District of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The location will be open seven days per week and, like other Apple retail stores, it will host Today at Apple sessions and have a Genius Bar for device repairs and troubleshooting.

By the looks of it, this should be Apple’s 500th retail store around the world. That total includes the Apple Park Visitor Center and Infinite Loop locations, which both sell Apple products alongside promotional merchandise, and it also factors in the rare permanent closure of Apple’s Simi Valley store last year.

It’s possible that Apple could announce at least one other new store opening between now and late January, such as its nearly ready Vienna, Austria location, in which case the Korean store would obviously not be exactly 500th. We’ve reached out to Apple for an official store count and we’ll update if we hear back.

Apple is promoting its Garosu-gil store with a colorful, animated greeting in both English and Korean on its website, with a matching mural along the storefront that now reveals the January 27 opening date to those passing by.

Apple confirmed plans to open its first store in South Korea just over a year ago, and both construction and hiring have been underway since. The store was originally reported to open December 30, but the location evidently wasn’t quite ready in time, and it’ll now officially open in less than two weeks.

Apple’s first two stores opened in May 2001 at shopping malls in Tysons Corner, Virginia and Glendale, California. By our count, Apple now has 271 retail stores in the United States, while this Garosu-gil location will be its 229th retail store elsewhere, pushing it to the 500 mark in less than 17 years.

Apple remains in the process of renovating dozens of those stores with a fresher aesthetic. Many of the locations have expanded by adding a floor or taking over adjacent storefronts, while some stores have relocated entirely.

Related Roundup: Apple Stores

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