Just because a form factor is trendy doesn’t mean that it’s right for your business.

Naturally, we’re referring to touch-based mobile phones, today’s fashionable way to interface with your digital life while on the go. Thanks to the iPhone, and now a slew of other handsets, finger-swiping is in and buttons are out.

You know the drill: you can use your fingertip to navigate through all your phone’s content, be it flicking your way through e-mails in your inbox, documents, or calendar entries or using gestures such as a tap to zoom in on a website or drawing a half-circle to rotate photos.

“This is where everything is going,” says Erez Zevulunov, director of MIT Consulting, a Toronto-based technology solutions firm. “Star Trek is here -- keyboards have been replaced with your finger and for good reason: touch phones are easy to learn, easy to navigate, and they offer a richer graphical experience.”

Nathan Dyer, senior analyst for enterprise mobility at the Yankee Group, a Boston, Mass.-headquartered research firm, says “touch”-based handsets, such as the iPhone, have done a great job at reducing user frustration. “Mobile devices are being crammed with so many features that it's difficult as a user to navigate and find what you're looking for. The iPhone has done a phenomenal job using touch-based screens to remove this user frustration,” Dyer says.

“What used to take four awkward clicks on a keypad to access the calendar application can now be done with one or two ‘touches,’” Dyer adds. “People generally have short attention spans, so it's critical for device manufacturers to maximize the navigation speeds.”

Existing and future challenges

A “soft” keyboard, however, isn’t ideal for every situation, such as for those who need to type a lengthy e-mail message.

“Touch screens are not perfect,” says Dyer. “As we see with the iPhone, typing on a virtual keyboard is rather cumbersome and takes a while to get used to, [therefore] the iPhone isn't designed for heavy e-mail composers.” Some users claim they don’t like the lack of tactile feedback when pressing the on-screen keys, although some handsets, such as the LG Voyager, offer a small vibration sensation when the “soft” keys are pressed to confirm the button press was registered.

“Power users still want a button-based QWERTY keyboard, as with most BlackBerrys, but for everyone else it’s easy to see why ‘touch’ is the next big thing,” concludes Zevulunov.

SIDEBAR: Touch me, hold me

Here’s a quick look at a few new non-iPhone touch-based phones.

  • The LG Voyager smartphone features a high-resolution touch-screen on its surface, but if you prefer to type a lengthy e-mail or instant message with real buttons the handset opens up like a book to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard (and second screen) inside. Pull out the tiny antenna to watch live TV, or download music, video or podcasts.
  • The new HTC Touch Cruise builds upon its popular predecessors by offering a high-quality 2.8-inch LCD screen and 3-D interface (called TouchFLO) to give you one-touch access to all your communication, entertainment and information. Powered by Windows Mobile 6 professional, the Cruise also includes integrated HSDPA, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3-megapixel camera and FM radio.
  • The Neonode N2 is a little-known, gesture-based smartphone that’s considerably smaller than the others at just 3-inches tall (and sporting a 2-inch screen), which can easily be toted to and from meetings. But this sleek black smartphone also offers a few impressive consumer features, such as the ability to record Internet radio streams (stored on expandable MiniSD memory up to 32GB), 2-megapixel still camera (with video recording functionality), and stereo Bluetooth.