More hands-on computing

Writing in the July 08 issue of Scientific American, Stuart F. Brown provided an overview of how multi-touch systems work, are currently being employed, and ways they may affect computing in the future. As the regular reader of this blog knows, I find this topic worthy of attention, because I think it reflects the beginning of one of the most substantial changes in personal technology applications, comparable to (a) the advent of the PC in the late ’70s, (b) the popularization of the graphical user interface in the middle ’80s, and (c) maybe even the development of the Web in the ’90s.

Here’s Mr. Brown’s lead:

When Apple’s iPhone hit the streets last year, it introduced so-called multi-touch screens to the general public. Images on the screen can be moved around with a fingertip and made bigger or smaller by placing two fingertips on the image’s edges and then either spreading those fingers apart or bringing them closer together. The tactile pleasure the interface provides beyond its utility quickly brought it accolades. The operations felt intuitive, even sensuous. But in laboratories around the world at the time of the iPhone’s launch, multi-touch screens had vastly outgrown two-finger commands. Engineers have developed much larger screens that respond to 10 fingers at once, even to multiple hands from multiple people.

It is easy to imagine how photographers, graphic designers or architects—professionals who must manipulate lots of visual material and who often work in teams—would welcome this multi-touch computing. Yet the technology is already being applied in more far-flung situations
in which anyone without any training can reach out during a brainstorming session and move or mark up objects and plans.

As this snippet shows, Mr. Brown focuses heavily on the potential for shared and interactive use of the multi-touch interface. After the obligatory homage to Jeff Han, Mr. Brown discusses Microsoft’s Surface and Mitsubishi’s DiamondTouch.

Link to the preview page (download of a PDF requires a subscription or a US$4.50 payment). Link to my previous posts on this topic from 4 Jan 08 and 1 Feb 08. Link to Mitsubishi research lab’s DiamondTouch and Microsoft’s Surface.


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