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Study: iOS products still kings of responsive touchscreen technology

updated 11:00 pm EDT, Tue October 8, 2013

Even older iPhone 4 outpaces competitors in touch speed tests

A pair of new studies that tests touchscreen responsiveness among flagship tablets and top-selling smartphones has found that Apple's iPad and iPhone lead the field by a significant margin in both categories. The TouchMarks tests -- done by mobile ad firm Agawi -- pitted the iPad against leading brands of Android, Kindle and Windows RT offerings in tablets, and the iPhone against leading Android and Windows 8 phones. The current iPads and iPhone 5 (and even the iPhone 4) won against all competitors.

The iPad mini and full-size fourth-gen iPad performed around the same level as the iPhone 5, the most responsive device tested. All devices were tested at least 50 times, and scores were shown as a range of results with an average listed for the official score. The iPhone 5 won across categories with an average score of 72 milliseconds response time, with the iPad mini close behind at 75ms. The full-size iPad came in third overall with an average of 81ms, while the iPhone 4 was (unsurprisingly) significantly slower at an average 92ms.

Interestingly, the Nvidia Shield -- an Android dedicated gaming device said to use the same graphics system as the new iPhone 5s -- was only able to match the iPhone 4 in terms of touchscreen responsiveness. The Shield, along with Microsoft's Surface RT tablet, were by far the most responsive of the non-iOS devices.

The firm noted that even "flagship" Windows and Android smartphones did significantly worse than the three-year-old iPhone 4 in touchscreen responsiveness. Among smartphones, the Moto X scored the worst (an average 123ms), followed by the HTC One (121ms), Nokia's Windows Phone-based Lumia 928 (117) and Samsung's Galaxy S4 (114ms). The non-iOS smartphones were all just under half the speed of the iPhone 5 (the new iPhone 5c and 5s were not available when the study was conducted, but will be compared in a future study).

Tablet tests fared little better, with the iPad mini the speed champ at 75ms on average, compared to the fourth-generation iPad (81ms), the Shield (92ms), and the Surface RT (95ms). The Galaxy Tab 3 (eight-inch version) was judged the worst of the tested tablets at 168ms (by far the worst score overall), followed by the Nexus 7 (2013 version) at 135ms and the Kindle Fire HD (2013 version) at 114ms. Coincidentally, the Kindle Fire HD had the exact same score as the Galaxy S4.

The range of scores in a given test revealed that some models have much wider variation in responsiveness than others. The iPhone 4 had a wide range of response times, along with the Moto X. The Nvidia Shield had by far the largest variation in touchscreen response times, even though it like the others was tested a minimum of 50 times -- suggesting that results using the gaming-oriented device are unpredictable (not something gamers would want to hear about a device marketed to them).

Other than the iPhone 4, the other iOS devices had a small range of variation in their scores. Likewise, the Surface RT, Nexus 7 and Galaxy S4 produced the most consistent responses among non-iOS devices. As might be expected, the iPhone 5 and the fourth-generation iPad had the most consistent speed among iOS devices.

Agawi noted that the tablet conclusions it found were "unsurprising," and mirrored results from the smartphone test where Apple's iPhone responded around 1.5 times as quickly to touchscreen input as its competitors. In the conclusion to the smartphone test, the firm found that "the best-written apps on iPhones will simply feel more responsive than similar apps on the current gen of Android devices" and went on to say that "this might be a major reason why the iPhone keyboard generally feels better than the Android keyboard to many people."

It also noted that (generally speaking) the cheaper the device, the more likely the user would find the touchscreen "laggy."

"If you primarily use your tablet for reading, watching videos or browsing the web, then shop around and pick the best tablet -- iOS, Android, Windows 8 -- that suits your needs," the study for tablets recommended, since differences in touchscreen response times would tend to play a smaller role in the described usage. "If, however, you're into latency-sensitive applications like games or interactive music apps, then your best bet might be an iPad," Agawi's testing team concluded.

by MacNN Staff



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