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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 and 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.



  1. Linda Marroquin

    09/22/2009 at 10:32 am

    Hilton, W7 requires a powerful user interface. FrogPad has generated a multi touch one handed user interface for all surfaces and mobiles. See youTube:

  2. SAM

    09/22/2009 at 10:36 am

    The average person doesn’t realize what a tablet pc is,
    much less then know the advantages of a touch screen interface.

    I have shown my tablet pc to people and they are intrigued
    with the pen, but keep asking if you can use the mouse, too.

    The cheaper prices will help, but the touch screens are still
    more expensive than an standard laptop

  3. LeeN

    09/22/2009 at 11:21 am

    At my office we collaborate on work at our desks, and there are times when one person is in front of the keyboard and mouse while the other is on the side and because of that, a person has to vocally tell them what to do, or they have to switch places (or get into each others person space :P). At those times I feel a touch screen would make things considerably easier to collaborate. It might even be cool to, instead of having a white board, to have a giant touch screen and/or digitizer screen and use that to communicate to each other with, and instead of just drawing funny pictures to represent things we can also use pictures and move them on the screen with multitouch, or even play back video and draw lines to show things.

    I think there is probably more cases then this that have yet to be explored simply because of availability (price is also availability).

    If you look at what Nintendo did with the DS. It’s one thing if you had some Nintendo DSes with it and some with out it, that game developers would avoid creating applications that require it, but all Nintendo DSes have it, so all developers try and take advantage of it and out of that some of them end up doing a lot of creative things that you can never do on a Sony PSP.

    We won’t see new and creative things being done in software until touchscreens are widely available, whether people use them or not, software will come around and give users more reasons to use them.

  4. RandySpangler

    09/22/2009 at 9:47 pm

    I put W7 on my little HP convertable with touch and pen. I never use the pen. But I guess W7 turned on the ‘grip hand’ feature where I can scroll (drag?) IE around with the touch of the screen. It didn’t take me too long to start liking it. The ability to turn back into an arrow if needed at top and bottom of a scroll bar is a bit challenging, but I like the ability to start acting a little like the iPhone.

    Speaking of the iPhone, I finally broke down and got one, mainly for the apps, and it takes about 5 minutes to start liking multi-touch. Maybe, less than 5 minutes. I found myself flicking on my tablet and nothing happening. Thats when you know that an interface is intuitive and right.

    The Courier video (Gizmodo and GBM today) is even more impressive. How long will it take for it to creep out of the basement skunkworks at Microsoft and see the light of day. JUST PUT IT OUT THERE!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!

  5. Nameless

    09/23/2009 at 7:28 pm

    Touch is okay, but I can live without it. (Works well for casual games like your typical PopCap fare, though.)

    What I especially demand is Wacom pen support to write and draw with. Heck, I think that a pen interface could make for some intriguing game concepts.

    Mind you, there are some instances where I wish I had touch on my TC1100 instead of reaching for the Wacom pen, but there are also instances where I’m glad that I can’t accidentally input with my palm or other unintended screen contact. The trick is to make the two seamless, and when in touch mode, minimize accidental inputs.

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