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Touch and Gorilla Arm



gorilla-jpeg-image-175x201-pixelsAs we were recording the latest GBM Podcast I mentioned to Hilton and Xavier that I had recently heard about a condition called Gorrilla Arm that related to touch screens. According to some sources (here and here) Gorilla Arm was a factor in the demise of vertically orientated touch screen technology in the 1980’s. Others disagree as to the cause and effect, but there does seem to be an interesting story here.

The concept behind Gorilla Arm is this. It appears human beings aren’t designed to work with their hands doing intricate work or making small motions with their arms extended directly in front of them. After only a few minutes of this kind of activity, arms become tired, accuracy suffers, and the arm can even swell.

As we hear more and more about the coming wave of Touch, we also hear questions raised about whether or not a user with a desktop, or with a portable sitting on a desk, would be inclined to lift his/her arm to touch the screen. The jury is certainly still out on that, and regardless of the historical claims about Gorilla Arm’s effect on vertical touch screen technology, let’s hope that the current crop of touch engineers have learned from the past as we are about to see Touch rolled out in a big way with Windows 7.

(Note I mentioned in the GBM podcast that I heard about it on one of Leo LaPorte’s many podcasts, but after thinking about it, I remembered it was on the GDGT podcast.)



  1. Frank

    03/27/2009 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with this article. I don’t have a touchscreen, only an active digitizer but pointing on a display in notebook mode is a pain and a mouse is much more comfortable, more precise and faster in such a situation. The whole HP Touchsmart, or touchscreen for netbooks thing is a hype, nothing else.
    Only in slate mode or for demonstrations does a touchscreen or pen make sense.

  2. WellThen

    03/27/2009 at 4:37 pm

    I own a HP Touchsmart, which was purchased as a kitchen PC. I agree that there’s no way that it’s going to be used for any long term work. But as a quick way to access music or TV shows on the media server, it’s great.

  3. Ben

    03/27/2009 at 6:40 pm

    let’s hope pc designers are smart enough to realize that the standard laptop design isn’t really going to cut it when it comes to touch. new or modified form factors will be necessary to make touch an enjoyable experience. personally, i favor slate form factors or a dual touch screen clam-shell (like the OLPC2 concept). in the future, it would be cool to see multi-touch surfaces built into desks and such.


    03/27/2009 at 8:32 pm

    what i would do is basically put the screen on a angle, like the angle of a drafting table.

    optionally make it able to tilt from vertical (normal) to horizontal (ms surface) and be lockable at different angles between those two.

  5. Steppenwolf

    03/28/2009 at 4:57 am

    Ben, you’ve got the point.

    Whenever I work with my TC1100 in laptop mode, I find myself using the pen very often. It’s the form factor that promotes it: the keyboard is really next to the screen and there’s no palm rest.
    Whit my X61t is a whole different story, since I have to stretch my arm in order to reach the screen.

    I think that the TC1X00 form factor coupled with a capacitive touchscreen would take the touch experience to another level. It’s not that touch is crippled, it’s the laptop as we know it that’s just not practical.

  6. Joe O'Laughlin

    03/29/2009 at 8:29 am

    I’m tired of commenting to tell the world about just wearing a glove so you can keep your greasy hand off of a touch screen while you brace the heel of your hand so tiny stylus scribbling is more precise.

    AND consider easel painters who learn to be deft with daub on the end of a long brush. Humans can adapt to lots of odd ergonomic demands.

  7. JimAtLaw

    03/30/2009 at 10:47 am

    Turn.Set.Off has it right – looks at how Wacom designs the Cintiq. You don’t draw with your arms lifted, and you won’t work on a touchscreen like that all day either.

    Look for the next-gen, multi-touch Cintiq and similar solutions to work the same way (I hope).

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