Multi-Touch on a Tablet PC? Bring It On, Baby

Dell’s demonstration of their XT Tablet PC running multi-touch took everyone by surprise, including yours truly. We’ve been talking up multi-touch for quite awhile on GBM, and most recently on GottaBeSurface, so you know we are excited. That’s the kind of innovation I’m talking about on missing the “Wow”; and let it be said: it is a total game-changer for the Tablet PC space.

Here is why I’m excited about multi-touch on a Tablet PC.


  • creates buzz and awareness for tablet pc technology, giving the tablet pc space a much-needed kick in the pants
  • encourages innovation and breaking the mold for other OEMs
  • opens the door to a myriad of software applications and use-case scenarios – see below

For multi-touch to take off, Microsoft better be readying Vista to accommodate it. Dell is going to need much more than paint and picture shuffling for folks to get behind it.

Let’s assume for a minute that Microsoft has some stuff going on in the background with Vista to make multi-touch compelling and good user experience. What are some potential use-case scenarios? Here are just a few out-the-box ideas:

  1. Artists painting with multiple fingers or implements
  2. Numerous potential medical uses: interacting with 3D images of the brain, scans, etc. The portable nature for medical professionals is important.
  3. Introduces a new element into gaming, and opens the door for more strategy options
    1. playing board games with multiple people moving their parts at the same time – like a real board game
    2. Strategy games: being able to do multiple things at once with a character or weapons.
  4. Zooming on a lot of levels: video, pictures
  5. Rotating a picture or document with your hand(s) without needing two to three clicks
  6. Kids creating animation type objects with both hands ( ripping an object apart, squeezing to create impact points from fingers, molding in a similar fashion to clay, etc). The educational potential skyrockets here, and it is what excites me the most
  7. Working with math 3D objects
  8. Editing? Selecting two paragraphs with separate fingers and swapping them at the same time
  9. Taking Microsoft Surface applications, and having them work on a smaller “surface”. Who can afford and wants to take a “Big axx Table” with them on a trip or out with friends somewhere – bring your tablet and have a similar experience.
  10. Interacting with pictures and photo albums
  11. Squeezing a portion of a video with your hands and having it played back in the creation you molded with your OWN hands.
  12. Imagine Crayon Physics Deluxe with multi-touch?
  13. Working with chemical experiment scenarios, and causing things to happen at the same time using multiple inputs
  14. Web browsing on a slate: swapping two browser windows by flicking them in opposite directions using both hands.
  15. Making windows fit the dimension we create with hand by squeezing it – becomes personable rather than fitting a square box or rectangle.
  16. What about multiple pressure points of sensitivity in many of the above – that certainly changes the dynamic up quite bit.
  17. These are just a few ideas I’ve got. What other ideas do GBM readers have for multi-touch applications?

Folks may suggest that a 12″ screen is not optimal for this. I suggest otherwise. It makes surface computing portable and feasible for anyone. The experience can be just as good, if not better, than on a “Big Axx Table”, because of the portability.  Besides, who says we are limited to 12″ screens? 14″ tablet pcs are quite popular. Multi-touch 14″ slates would be ready-built board game machines.


The key here is software application development and an operating system that optimizes the experience. I’m thinking that we are going to need a slew of good Windows Presentation Foundation developers and some creative folks working with the education market. Multi-touch, in my opinion, takes interactivity and learning to a whole new level, and it encourages creativity and out-of-box thinking. It also brings fun and excitement to the tablet pc platform on a level much talked about with the iPhone. Ask anyone who uses an iPhone about why they still use it: it’s fun to use, it’s interactive, etc. That is what multi-touch can bring to the tablet pc platform – if compelling software applications will get built, Microsoft breaks out with some real marketing, and consumers get to experience the interactivity for themselves in a retail environment.


Update / Clarification: I’m getting several comments from folks about giving up ink at the expense of multi-touch. What I envision and desire is to have multi-mode implemented in the same way that it is currently implemented with the X61 – bring the active pen to the screen, and touch turns off. Pull it away, and multi-touch turns on. Bring multi-mode touch / active ink to the multi-model multi-touch / active ink