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Dial Input

Recently my wife bought a new microwave for our apartment, and it has a dial for inputting time. This is more-or-less what it looks like:

See that big circular dial on the right panel? That’s how you put in time. Turn counter-clockwise and the time goes up, and if I shoot pass the desired time, I just turn clockwise a bit. Once you get a hang of it, it’s really, really fast to set the time.

I’m used to putting in the time via a number pad. To put in one minute I have to press 1-0-0. That’s 3 presses, 2 locations (not to mention the mental load of searching for the correct number to press). The dial is a much simpler and more elegant way of inputting time.

Circular input is common in everyday life: bottle cap, thermostat, radio tuner, steering wheel, or the iPod classic. And it is conspiculously missing on web interfaces – maybe because the input methods (keyboard and mouse) don’t really go well with dials?

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This was posted in Design.
  • The circular input is more common now with the scroll wheel on mice, not sure how it might translate nicely.
    I will say that I have an HTC Incredible running miui which uses, call it “price is right” vertical scrolling which is obnoxious in it implementation, and very difficult to use, though his may be a problem with a touch screen and lack of “feedback”.

  • Quicktime 4.0 (the first brushed metal app) had a volume control wheel. The control was widely criticized for prioritizing style over usability, and was replaced with a traditional slider in the next version.

    Screenshots here:

  • Once place to see it implemented is dials on Sound software. Particularly on the iPad. I’m not sure it translates real well the way the standard convention is starting to develop. (touch and drag finger either up off the dial, or down off of it.) But I do think it could be useful if a better way is developed.

  • I’ve always found circular inputs frustrating, unless they have feedback like set intervals that “click.” Maybe one day we’ll have the Minority Report style ability to turn a knob, but yeah, I don’t think it’s a very good interface for the inputs that we have.

  • One cool sub-feature of a good dial control is that the rate of time change increases non-linearly as the dial rotation speed increases. Meaning: if you turn the dial a quarter turn, quickly, it might increment the timer by 5 minutes. But, if you turn the dial a quarter turn, slowly, it might only increment the timer by 5 seconds. This allows a wide range of timer adjustments over a very short range of dial motion.

  • @jim Yes, physical dial control, especially the digital ones these days, is really smart and detects the speed. Really cool, and probably something that cannot be translated to the web.

    I think just plopping on a dial on screen is not a good solution unless we have a better way of input – such as with touch.

    @scott I’d love to see that UI.

  • Um… okaaaaaay.

    What does this have to do with Harvest?

    Would prefer to follow your blog if it’s about you, not random thoughts about unrelated topics. There are plenty of those blogs around.

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