The Fat Thumb: Using the Thumb’s Contact Size for Single-handed Mobile Interaction

Sebastian Boring, David Ledo, Xiang ’Anthony’ Chen, Nicolai Marquardt, Anthony Tang, and Saul Greenberg. (2012). The Fat Thumb: Using the Thumb’s Contact Size for Single-handed Mobile Interaction. In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Human-computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, ACM, 39–48. Acceptance: 25% - 54/212.


Modern mobile devices allow a rich set of multi-finger interactions that combine modes into a single fluid act, for example, one finger for panning blending into a two-finger pinch gesture for zooming. Such gestures require the use of both hands: one holding the device while the other is interacting. While on the go, however, only one hand may be available to both hold the device and interact with it. This mostly limits interaction to a single-touch (i.e., the thumb), forcing users to switch between input modes explicitly. In this paper, we contribute the Fat Thumb interaction technique, which uses the thumb’s contact size as a form of simulated pressure. This adds a degree of freedom, which can be used, for example, to integrate panning and zooming into a single interaction. Contact size determines the mode (i.e., panning with a small size, zooming with a large one), while thumb movement performs the selected mode. We discuss nuances of the Fat Thumb based on the thumb’s limited operational range and motor skills when that hand holds the device. We compared Fat Thumb to three alternative techniques, where people had to precisely pan and zoom to a predefined region on a map and found that the Fat Thumb technique compared well to existing techniques.


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mobile device, single-handed interaction, touch-screen


  acceptance = {25{\%} - 54/212},
  acmid = {2371582},
  address = {New York, NY, USA},
  author = {Boring, Sebastian and Ledo, David and Chen, Xiang 'Anthony' and Marquardt, Nicolai and Tang, Anthony and Greenberg, Saul},
  booktitle = {Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Human-computer
      Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services},
  date-added = {2014-01-11 20:51:34 +0000},
  date-modified = {2014-01-11 20:54:23 +0000},
  doi = {},
  isbn = {978-1-4503-1105-2},
  keywords = {mobile device, single-handed interaction, touch-screen},
  location = {San Francisco, California, USA},
  numpages = {10},
  pages = {39--48},
  publisher = {ACM},
  series = {MobileHCI '12},
  title = {The Fat Thumb: Using the Thumb's Contact Size for Single-handed Mobile
  type = {conference},
  videourl = {},
  year = {2012},
  pdfurl = {},
  bdsk-url-1 = {},
  bdsk-url-2 = {}