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What are the UX considerations/recommendations for using absolute vs. relative mapping when using a setup like:

  • Wacom tablet & computer
  • Touchpad & computer
  • Tablet (iPad etc) and computer

The default mapping for Wacom tablets is absolute while the touchpad on a laptop is relative. I believe it's because the size difference between the input area and the display area, but are there other factors that should be considered?

If the size difference is the main factor, at what measurement of size difference do you say an input should be absolute/relative?

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In what context? A laptop touchpad and a large wacom tablet are used for very different reasons. – DA01 Nov 8 '12 at 2:16
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The study Absolute vs. Relative Direct Pen Input by the Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs and the University of Toronto can give you some actual data on the subject:

We present the findings from two experiments designed to explore the effect of absolute vs. relative direct pen interaction on both small and large scale displays where the input and display spaces are co-incident.

An absolute mapping – where there is a one-to-one correspondence between the pen and cursor positions – was found to be superior to a relative mapping – where the pen and cursor positions can be offset with a variable mapping – for all distances on the small screen of a Tablet PC; however, on a large wall-sized display, the relative mapping outperformed the absolute mapping in situations requiring cursor movement over large distances. Our findings can inform the design of pen interfaces, in particular for large scale displays.

And if you jump to the conclusion:

While absolute input was superior in terms of selection time for all target distances on a Tablet PC, relative input overtook absolute input for distant target selection on a wall-sized display.

The crossover point at which relative input performed better than absolute input occurred at a distance of around 2200 pixels (about 200cm) indicating that relative input is preferable for displays whiteboard sized or larger.

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I don't really understand if the distance is in pixels or centimeters: my laptop has a physical width of 36 centimeters, and it has a horizontal resolution of 1440 px. This ratio of 40 px per centimeter gives us a physical width of 55 cm for a 2200px screen. So the big question is, would people benefit from touch drag'n'drop on a 15 inch screen or not? – Aadaam Nov 10 '12 at 0:20

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