Apple’s iPhone and iPads are best for touch

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One of the most immediate things to turn to when comparing smartphone and tablet performance is the processing power. You can quickly compare the clockspeed, number of cores, RAM and even benchmark tests to get an idea of what devices are faster. But one thing which is just as important in end-user satisfaction –– and which barely ever gets a look-in –– is touchscreen responsiveness.

That’s why Agawi has been doing a fair bit of testing and has now published a set of results, which are intriguing to say the very least.

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Agawi’s test is called TouchMarks and it measures touch responsiveness in milliseconds – of course the lower the millisecond score the faster the touch responsiveness. Agawi has tested both smartphones and tablets and the results clearly show that Apple’s products have much faster touch responsiveness than most of the Android and Windows competition, with a few notable exceptions.

The current average touch responsiveness speed is around 100 milliseconds (ms), that’s a delay which is noticeable to the end user. While improved speeds down to 50ms or even 10ms offer a more responsive experience, human perception is such that we can still easily notice the delay. At as low as 1ms though, users cannot perceive a delay in touch responsiveness, it’s effectively instantaneous. While no manufacturer has yet put out a product that is advanced enough for 1ms response speeds, there’s a noticeable degree of variation from one device to the next.

Agawi’s testing doesn’t incorporate the most recent iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, only going as high as the iPhone 5, but the iPhone 5 does have the fastest touch responsiveness of all tested devices at 72ms and it’s considerably faster than the next best offering – the iPhone 4 at 92ms.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is next fastest at 114ms but this is slower than the average 100ms, while the HTC One is slower still at 121ms. Motorola’s Moto X, for all its praise, trails at the back with 123ms.

This means, according to Agawi’s report, the iPhone 5 is 1.5x more responsive than any other Android or Windows Phone device tested.

“Our best guess at Agawi is that Apple’s touchscreen hardware is better optimized or more sensitively calibrated for capturing and processing touch,” said the report.

“Another possibility is that while the Android and WP8 code are running on runtimes (Dalvik and CLR respectively), the iPhone code is written in closer-to-the-metal Objective-C, which may reduce some latency.” 

Equally interesting is the tablet data, which shows the iPad Mini as the fastest at 75ms, quicker than the full-size iPad 4 at 81ms. Curiously, the best performing non-iOS device is Nvidia’s SHIELD portable gaming device at 92ms, followed by the Surface RT on Windows RT at 95ms and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 2013 edition at 114ms.

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Google’s own Nexus 7 (the 2013 edition, not the Nexus 7 2) scored 135ms and was the second slowest tablet tested just ahead of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 at 168ms.

The big question is why is there this gap? Is this a hardware issue or a software one? It’s quite easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s down to software, as iOS has long been regarded as a better optimised platform. Google has come on leaps and bounds in this regard, most notably with Project Butter on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but it still isn’t quite as slick as iOS.

However, could it be a hardware issue at heart? The software argument with iOS vs Android makes sense until you look at the difference between Apple devices all running the same OS. The iPhone 5 is the fastest, followed by the iPad Mini, the iPad 4 and the iPhone 4 – surely if the responsiveness was down to the software they’d all score equally?

Particularly interesting in all this is Nvidia’s SHIELD. We spoke to an Nvidia rep at IFA 2013 and, talking about the SHIELD, he explained that normally when the company presents its Tegra chips to manufacturers it suggests what kind of hardware will work best together, but ultimately it’s up to the OEM and they invariably choose a few cheaper parts to cut costs. He said that with the SHIELD, Nvidia really got the chance to pick all the bits it knew would offer the best end user experience.

We didn’t think much of this at the time, but the results are there for all to see – the SHIELD really is one of the most responsive Android devices there is. And yet it’s still behind Apple’s iPads.

Agawi’s research is ongoing and it reports that it will soon be testing other devices, including the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. 

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