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Will multi-touch push pen input or just push it out?

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Rob smash paper boats!

Rob smash paper boats!

By now, you’ve seen the news of the bundle of multi-touch applications for Windows 7 called Touch Pack and watched Rob’s concise and enlightening InkShow demo. If not, what are you waiting for? Five minutes  for a glimpse of the future. I think it’s worth it just to watch Rob try to nudge delicate paper boats across a serene pond by crushing them  with his  powerful ghostly  fingers. Rob Smash!

Anyway, while I found the news very exciting, I noticed a good share of comments questioning what this meant for us pen-input and single-touch Tablet PC users, and whether we were being left out of the fun. I admit a bit of doubt and worry crossed my mind as well. However, I think the whole multi-touch movement has been and will be very positive for us in the long run.

First, I think multi-touch will  act as  a gateway to pen input. Just as kids graduate from fingerpainting to drawing with crayons and so on, multi-touch newbies will advance from streaking paint across the screen with their fingers to crafting precise strokes and flourishes with the pen. Using your fingers for input is convenient and sometimes fun, but as people start to do more with their touchscreens, they’ll starting reaching for pens to write and draw.

Second, not all the new touch input apps bound to appear will rely on multi-touch. For example, plenty of great iPhone apps make excellent use of the touch input, but only a few require or even make use of multi-touch. Not every task requires multiple points of manipulation, so I’m sure a lot of touch-optimized programs for Windows 7 will work well with the  pen and single-touch, just as they do on current multi-touch platforms.

Finally, multi-touch should lead to more tablet options, and that is my biggest hope in all the multi-touch excitement. So what if  some new  tablets won’t include active digitizers for optimal pen input. They’ll still support single-touch input and some type of pen input (even if it’s a third-party pen like the Pogo Sketch). The point is, there should be increased adoption  of and options for  the tablet form factor, and that’s good for all of us tablet enthusiasts.

So I say,  let multi-touch be the big star. Let it get all the attention. Sure, I’d love to see more toys for pen input, but as long as it brings more interest in the tablet form factor, it’s all good by me. What say you,  my fellow  Tableteers? Great for all of us? Just another form of input? Or are we pen users doomed to be crushed by Rob’s mighty fingers  pinched out?

Alleged Apple fanboi, accused Android apologist, and confirmed Microsoft MVP for touch and tablet Mark Sumimoto a.k.a. Sumocat dabbles in all areas of mobile computing with a focus on Windows-based Tablet PCs and pen input. A mobile computing enthusiast since 2004, he pioneered the field of ink blogging via his personal blog, Sumocat's Scribbles. His current tools include a Fujitsu Lifebook T900, TEGA v2, and iPhone 4. Email: sumocat [at] notebooks.com

5 Comments

  1. Charles Jannace

    05/29/2009 at 5:47 am

    Multi touch is great for navigating but for data input nothing beats the pen, including the virtual keyboard. IMO, the improvements on Win7 for handwriting recognition are outstanding.

  2. neormare

    05/29/2009 at 6:42 am

    Where to download?
    Would like to try that on my XT?

  3. Rob Bushway

    05/29/2009 at 7:00 am

    @neomare – it is not available for download at this point.

  4. Dave P

    05/29/2009 at 12:22 pm

    The one thing you are missing with your discussion of multitouch is how it could make vectoring a thing of the past even on soft touch screens. With single touch a palm touching the screen can move the single touch location from the pen tip to the palm and the software interprets this as a line being drawn between the two. With multitouch, the two locations can both be passed to the software which can interpret them to determine which one is the active input.

  5. Brett Gilbertson

    05/29/2009 at 11:45 pm

    I think multi-touch has already created lots of interest around tablet based computing. I don’t think it matters wether it is pen or touch, the buzz will help both causes.

    It could be the catalyst to get the masses over the barriers to entry of tablet computing…

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