What will it take to make you wanna touch?

With Windows 7 available to end users next month, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the world of touch and multitouch with the added context of what’s available today.

I am firmly of the belief that touch and multitouch make no real, practical sense on the desktop monitor.


As we’ve stated on GBM before, the main problem for touch interfaces on the desktop is “gorilla arm”, that heavy, painful feeling you get in your arm after having it outstretched for an extended period, trying to touch a monitor 20-24 inches away from your body. Sure there are times when touch on the desktop monitor would be handy to just scratch out a quickie OneNote drawing, but for 99% of the time, for 99% of the people, touch on the desktop monitor space just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense even if it came for free.

Now on the smaller form factors, Apple has really done the space a lot of service. Users and fanboys alike have been shown how touch and multitouch work on an iPhone. Apple’s advertising for the touch features of iPhone are direct, to the point, and show the audience what is going on without a lot of flash or distraction. Much like the HP ads for their newer IQ-series TouchSmart kitchen PC, the advertising is creative and effective.

Last week, we’ve seen a few more multitouch-enabled Tablets become available. Fujitsu, HP and Lenovo all announced new multitouch-capable systems.


But what will really drive users to use touch? Xavier noticed a trend in touch-friendly interfaces and shared his discovery with me. The next great use for touch and multitouch is in e-commerce. Yeah, the same old mouse-friendly e-stores like Amazon.com and Newegg.com can and should be adapted to multitouch.


Think about how the typical shopper uses an e-commerce site like Amazon. They are usually typing in some keywords, then picking from a list studded with mid-sized pictures. Want a bigger picture? Just multitouch stretch on the mid-sized picture and it grows larger. Pinch it to make it smaller. Want to rent a DVD movie at a kiosk?   Again, the interface is simplified into a simple list of the movies available, all of which have big pictures to tap on.

Have you seen the new AT&T commercials with Bill Kurtis on an airplane with his little netbook on the tray table? Netbooks are great candidates for touch and multitouch because they have little physical space for a touchpad and are natural for use in tight spaces where using a mouse is impractical. There could even be a revival of the pure slate formfactor, making future netbooks slimmer and lighter. People have gotten used to social networking from their phones, wouldn’t it be easier to send updates from your touch-enabled netbook?

Last but not least, gaming on PCs is not dead. It’s just sorely in need of a better interface than WASD+mouse. Not all games, but casual games and most MMORPGs that don’t need a lot of twitchy reflex movements. I’d argue that touch (and pen) are even better than the mouse for some games, because it’s faster and easier to lift and move your finger across the screen.

Nintendo started things off in the gaming space by making the tremendously successful Nintendo DS, which spawned the DS Lite and DSi. Now, millions of DS-family systems are sold per year. If you can get that much entertainment out of a couple of 3-inch diagonal screens, only one of which is touch-capable, think of how usable a 10-inch diagonal touchscreen on a netbook can be for gaming.


So that’s what I’m thinking about with the impending release of Windows 7 and the new multitouch features. Is Windows 7 too little, too late? The world of mobile devices has moved forward since Windows Vista and left Microsoft far behind in the area of touch interfaces.