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In Zootopia, they have computer and smart phones, much like we do. The world I'm writing is similarly populated by anthropomorphic mammals and, like Zootopia, generally possesses technology similar to the modern (2020-ish in my case) real world.

Now, I imagine felines, with their retractable claws, might be okay as-is, but for the rest of the carnivores and probably most omnivores also (actually, I think most or all non-ruminants?) that have non-retracting claws, how would they use smart phones? I guess at minimum they would have really good scratch resistance on their screens / screen protectors, but are there other adaptations that would make sense? Would they even use touch screens? How would they interact with smart phones?

Notes:

  • Unlike in Zootopia, people in this world are all "human sized". There is likely some variation (although I haven't really explored this, as my major characters are all around the same size), but in line with human variation (so, perhaps 3' to 7', which is roughly the range of human variation, but much smaller than is depicted in Zootopia). Mostly this matters because it means I don't need Zoolander phones.
  • I do specifically want them to have devices similar to smart phones; in particular, interactive devices of similar size with screens and the ability to send text messages. (Not just audio, for many of the same reasons we have textual messaging.)
  • I do also have widespread "magic" which is effectively telekinesis, however, only a modest portion of the population can use it directly. Because it is telekinetic in nature, I don't see it being directly usable as an interface, however it can be, and probably is, used to prevent claws from pressing into screens hard enough to leave scratches. In particular, I don't see any way magic could be useful with capacitive touch interfaces, and...
  • The people in this world would prefer to use capacitive touch interfaces for the same reasons as in our world; they are solid state and much more durable and reliable.
  • There are magic-actuated switches that are used for e.g. power, volume and assistant buttons, but they're relatively expensive, so using more than 3-5 is considered impractical, at least for "mainstream" devices. (Using four as a sort of joystick would be do-able, but would be pretty slow/awkward to use.)
  • I'm concerned specifically with people that have claws, but feel free to also suggest options for ungulates if you like. In particular, solutions that can bring the advantages of capacitive touch sensors but also work with keratin (in which case, both ungulates and others would probably just use their claws/hooves as the 'points of touch') are useful.
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Like this

enter image description here

Most humans use their finger tips for their smartphones because it is the obvious thing to do when you don't have a claw in the way, but claws in no way prevent you from reaching the screen with a usable portion of your digit. People who have particularly long nails for example can still use their phones just fine by either touching on the pad or side of their fingertip or by curling their finger to press the screen with their knuckle.

When you look at the claws of various kinds of animals, nearly all of them either have some kind of furless, protruding pads below the claw or furless knuckles that they can use. 3-toed Sloths are the only animal I can find that would have any particular issue with a touch screen. Their handicap of not having any exposed skin on their hands would likely lead to something like Darth Biomech's answer. But your zootopia world would probably consider this "special accommodation" since sloths are such a minority, kind of like how we don't bother printing things in braille unless someone specifically needs it.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure knuckles would work (well, a) not one-handed, anyway, and b) not sure that would work with fur), but yeah, playing around with it, side of finger seems plausible. IOW, I may just be overthinking this 🙂. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 15 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ I'm typing this on a phone with my knuckle to see if it works. It does! Not that difficult. As a former owner of the Panasonic GD55 I can also confirm that it's possible to use buttons that are much smaller than your fingers by pressing them with the narrow strip of flesh next to your thumbnail. $\endgroup$ – Robyn Feb 16 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew I've used my nose in a pinch (when it's just too cold to remove gloves). There are apps in existence now for people who have issues with smartphones that could probably be adapted for animals with limited bare skin. $\endgroup$ – azurefrog Feb 16 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew to add to the knuckle argument, many smartphones are too large to use 1-handed, period. I have a larger screen, and I can not reach half of it with my thumb when doing things 1-handed. When I need to use it 1 handed, I typically set it down to be able to reach the whole screen. This is such a minor handicap that I doubt most of your animals will even recognize it as such. It's certainly never hit my radar as a problem until just now. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Feb 17 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Criggie, true, but it's desirable (there aren't always convenient surfaces!). Anyway, you'll note I accepted this answer, it's just the knuckle suggestion specifically that I'm not buying. Fingertips, which have exposed skin/pads, should work fine. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 17 at 21:43
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Are you going for a smartphone, or a contemporary bland terran fashion of a slab with a touchscreen and not much more? Smartphone does not equal touchscreen - my smartphone has a (small) QWERTY keyboard, way in the past my smarphone had bigger QWERTY keyboard, and before that my smartphone had 3x4 keyboard, and before that my Palm PDA non-phone had a touchscreen controlled by a stylus, not fingers.

So, the first possibility is to have a stylus. You will have to use the phone two-handed (for writing at least), but that is how we used PDAs in the past (and you can use the tip of your claw instead of the stylus, with a resistive display):

enter image description here (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The second, much cooler possibility is to use a (one handed) chorded keyboard. Sometimes I feel sad that our history steered away from such a keyboard, it makes writing much faster than a normal one (while two handed) and one handed is still much faster than using a touchscreen:

enter image description here (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Such a device discreetly held in a hand, coupled with a (non-touch) screen could be indeed more productive than our terran phones.

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    $\begingroup$ I thought about this, but... we can ignore the learning curve, because we're talking about a fiction world where most people would use this, not the real world with its entrenched tech, but is chord typing competitive with touch? I've seen numbers anywhere from 25 WPM to 300 WPM, but it seems to scale with the number of keys available. Touch is maybe 50 WPM. Plus, having to lug around a separate input device seems awkward. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 15 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ It really is not, but from the other side :-) 50 wpm is not touchscreen, it's swipe or something, propped by a good personalized language model and a very proficient user, typical touchscreen IM (i.e. hen picking) is maybe 15 wpm. $\endgroup$ – Radovan Garabík Feb 15 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ Well, yes, but that is a thing (happens to be what I do, personally), so alternative solutions would still be competing with it. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 15 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ This is the third unrelated time I've seen a Palm TX today. Baader–Meinhof phenomenon again. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Feb 16 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ If the chord buttons are on the side of the phone then you don't have to carry an additional device. $\endgroup$ – Robyn Feb 16 at 3:29
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It's easer than you think

Smartphone touchscreen works by detecting changes in conductivity. However, keratin, the stuff nails and claws are made of, isn't conductive.

You then have two options: either to change the chemical composition of your anthro's claws so that keratin becomes conductive and can be used with smartphones, or there is a special conductive nail polish (or adhesive claw caps) that let them use touchscreens.

You also don't need to worry about scratching, since few claws are actually razor-sharp at the tip, but even if they are, keratin has a lower Mohs scale rating than even simple glass (2.5 versus 5.5-7), so you can't scratch smartphone screen with a claw.

Overall operating touchscreens with claws might even be superior since they allow for much higher precision. It's like your every finger has a stylus built right in.

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    $\begingroup$ You kids, you don't know how lucky you are. Back in the day, we had to use resistive touchscreens, none of this newfangled capacitative stuff. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resistive_touchscreen $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 15 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ This was, in fact, one of the ideas I had. The drawback, I think, is that you would have to keep reapplying whatever you are using. This would be especially problematic for species that shed claw husks, as there would be a rather abrupt transition from being able to use touch interfaces to losing that ability. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 15 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime resistive touchscreens are good in many ways, still preferable if you need them to work wet or in thick gloves (e.g. some bike computers). The only thing you lose is multi-touch. Modern ones don't suffer from such bad calibration issues as the ones I had 15 years ago. They'd work well with claws $\endgroup$ – Chris H Feb 16 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisH multitouch resistive screens do exist... have existed for years. They're just pricey (in part due to lack of consumer interest) and they don't look or feel as nice as a glass capacitative screen. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 16 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime you're right - I once used one on a Palm. For the reasons you stated, in our world at least, the few uses for resistive screens tend to be single touch. I've been coding for one recently in fact, using PyGame on a Raspberry Pi to control lab hardware with a 3.5" touch TFT. Multi-touch is nice but not really necessary $\endgroup$ – Chris H Feb 16 at 11:43
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Don’t use capacitive touchscreens.

IRL, smart phones (and most other non-industrial applications involving touch screens) use a capacitive touchscreen. These work by utilizing capacitance to detect conductive materials close by. The amount of conductance does not have to be very high (human skin is actually not very conductive, it’s just not a particularly amazing insulator either), but keratin (the protein that makes up claws/horns/nails/hair/fur) is not sufficiently conductive to trigger a practical capacitive touchscreen.

However, there are a bunch of other options for touchscreens. Capacitive touchscreens have won out for consumer usage IRL for a combination of reasons, but the simple fact that they don’t work with claws would be enough to result in them not being the dominant option in a world such as you suggest.

The Wikipedia page about touchscreens lists a number of other technologies beyond capacitive touchscreens. Of those listed there, the most likely posibilites for actual use in a smartphone type device are:

  • Resistive: Early phones and PDAs with touchscreens used these. They would work fine with claws provided you are careful not to push too hard and don’t sharpen your claws too much. In fact, they might be easier to use with claws because the smaller point would give you better precision (this is why most decent devices with resistive touchscreens came with a stylus).
  • Dispersive signal: This could be adapted, in theory, to work in a smart-phone form factor. The downside is that you would kind of lose out on long-press gestures (it can only detect press and release, not holding down), but all the other benefits mean it would probably be worth it.
  • Acoustic pulse: Similar to dispersive signal designs, this could work in a smart-phone form factor. It’s not very energy efficient though, but avoids most of the issues with both resistive and dispersive signal designs.
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    $\begingroup$ only registering press and release wouldn't preclude long touch. Holding down is just press, but no release. There's also IR touch screens which Amazon (and others?) use for touch sensitive eInk screens. They're pressure sensitive, so claws should work just find with them. $\endgroup$ – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Feb 17 at 16:37
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The previous-generation touchscreens (generally known as "resistive touchscreens" in contrast with modern "capacitive" ones) were perfectly usable with nails, sticks, cutlery, gloves, eldery peoples' dry skin fingertips and whatever else you push them with. They were sensitive to the pressure applied to the screen and not to the proximity of a material with specific electromagnetic properties.

They never got into mass production smartphones, but the ordinary citizen used them pretty much in ATMs or GPS navigators.

Having a sleepy feline and an old Garmin Nuvi available right now, I made few clicks with a feline nail on the screen - works perfectly. One can avoid excessive wear of the touchscreen by using the arched surface of the nail instead of the nailtip.

Manicure will probably also be a thing.

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If you are taking a page from Zootopia, notice that pigs don't have hooves in their hands. Check the picture in the fandom wiki for the Frantic Pig:

The Frantic Pig, an anthropomorphized pig in the movie Zootopia

Other pig characters, such as the lady getting a photo for her driving license, also do not have hooves on their hands. Now this is not universal... Gazelle and the sloths do have long claws that they use as fingertips. And the elephant characters don't have digits, but they manipulate objects with their trunks. But you may do things differently in your world.

In absence of any better ideas, you could do it like you suggest and have capacitive screens that operate with keratin. That's how Flash the sloth is able to operate a touchscreen in the movie. Or simply make all devices measure pressure instead. This does for lower input resolution, but this is how some large touch-sensitive screens operated in the 90's. All devices should have gorilla glass screens or something more resistant than that.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd actually argue that those do look a lot like (pigs') hooves. Especially as in that picture you can't see if the outside is keratin-covered. That's an interesting idea, though, to give people hand-hooves that are fleshy on the inside, more like carnivore paws (or human/primate appendages, for that matter). $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 15 at 17:38
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They use pre 2007 year style smartphones with hardware keyboards. Like this Asus p526 one.

Asus p526

Or, they can use smartphones like Blackberry with qwerty keyboard.

Blackberry smartphone

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The animals in Zootopia have Supa-Flex(tm) Magic Glue(tm) on their hands, allowing them to bend hooves, and pick up thin metallic objects with them. There is even a hooved cop operating a gun, somehow flexing his hoof through the trigger guard.

Example: This is a Kudu Antelope's front foot.
enter image description hereenter image description here

and THIS is Judy's neighbor, an Kudu Antelope. Using his front hooves to open a pull-tab on a soda drink!
enter image description here

It they can manage a sodacan pulltab with that hoof, then I do not think that a mere cellphone touchscreen will be any problem!

Besides.. Just WHO said claws and touchscreens are incompatible? enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Actually the antelope in the screenshot has an opposable thumbs, no powerpuff girl magic hand trick needed. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Feb 15 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw EXACTLY!! Shows you just how strong that Supa-Flex(tm) Magic Glue(tm) is! $\endgroup$ – PcMan Feb 15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw ...making the character a _three_toed ungulate, and therefore not an antelope at all. Maybe it is just the even-toed ungulates who don't get to pick things up. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ "Just WHO said claws and touchscreens are incompatible?" ...that would be physics. Keratin isn't conductive. As an aside, I need my ungulates able to manipulate objects without magic, because widespread availability of spells is a post-industry thing, but if that wasn't the case, you just blew my mind with how magic totally could substitute for opposable digits. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 15 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew Pointing at that last picture.. But, sir... That sloth is using a touchscreen with a claw. Is it possible you misunderstand how touchscreens can be made to work? Sure touchscreens made for human digits will have problems, but surely there are other calibrations, other technologies, that can be used? As, point in case, that Sloth's touchpad clearly is doing. Don't try to impose human limits to a Zootopia world. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Feb 15 at 18:19
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Evolved paws/hands

In a word, claws long enough to make using a smartphone difficult make much more basic aspects of modern life difficult. So you simply have to take as given that your races evolved significantly improved dexterity to get to where they are. In particular this means a greater ability to control individual digits and a way to keep claws out of the way of tasks like sewing, handwriting, surgery, opening food wrappers, doing up buttons, handling small items (like coins) without dropping them, DJing...

It doesn't need to be entirely modeled on human hands. Perhaps it is only the index finger that has grown more separate and has a shorter claw. Mayybe the claw does not actually retract but the whole final bone bends backwards, and the joint below it does the actual touching/gripping.

For paws these would leave the fleshy part exposed so capacitative screens are just fine.

Oh, and naturally they would trim their claws for hygiene, aesthetic and practical purposes. We do.

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  • $\begingroup$ Like I said. If their hooves are agile enough to manipulate a pull-tab on a soda can, then they are more than sufficiently versatile for touchscreens. HEck, I sometimes have difficulty with soda cans, yet i'm fine on a phone. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Feb 17 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan, that wasn't the question, but now you've got me wondering if this world has pull-tab cans. Although, (moderately sharp) claws would make good natural levers. Maybe ruminants all carry can openers / pocket knives? $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 17 at 13:36

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