Touch Screens Rising or Going Awry ?

This blog is on record as saying that the first vendor that delivered a laptop with a fast and efficient touch screen laptop, they would a)have my dollars faster than a speeding bullet and b)probably gain significant market-share especially within the business community. So HP has delivered its HP SmartTouch machines and yet no money has arrived in Palo Alto like a speeding bullet. Even more telling, the NYTimes has just written an article in praise of the recent touch screen innovations. What is going on here?

HPTouchSmart Technology: Close Like in Horseshoes

HPTouchSmart is a big PC with 17-25″ diagonal screens that supports finger touch operations with the help of Windows Vista’s Aero. However, there are a number of problems with this arrangement. First, its a desktop PC not a laptop (HP’s TX2 removes this limitation and also adds multi-touch). Second, it uses Windows Vista and so requires typically 4-8GB of memory to make it work efficiently (too bad as this blog is not a fan of Windows Vista). Third, its touch screen operations are semi- multitouch like in the Apple iPhone and the new Windows 7. Fourth, there are not a lot of programs that are specifically designed to take advantage of the HPTouchSmart technology. And fifth and most importantly, HP Touch screen does not use a pointer device like on say Wacom21″ Cintiq tablets. Talking with the HP rep at a Graphics show he said that the the current TouchScreen technology is optically based. However, it requires a larger size, like a finger, to break the optical grid. Also it currently is not aware of pressure like in a Wacom pen which contains special sensors for pressure, direction, and speed of operation which then is passed along by Wacom’s pen to art/graphics software that is prepared to react to these events. problem – Wacom’s Cintiq cost $2000 and is slowly building up a library of programs, primarily graphics-oriented, that are touch sensitive. Another problem with the Wacom pen strategy is that it is not capable of multi-touch operations which have been pioneered by Apple’s iPhone and adopted by others like Palm’s Pre mobile phone, Asus T91 tablet and most notably Microsoft’s Windows 7(note the gimmicky review by EnGadget but much bettertechnology being reported more recently by CNET). We need a scored.

TouchScreen Scorecard

1-Wacom’s Cintiq is the real deal as long as you have $2000 to add to your laptop/PC , can forgo finger multi-touch, and will acept a smaller set of program prepared to support it.

2-HPTouchSmart and Dell XT2 with Multi-touch ebxtensions get much closer with fair-to-good multi-touch support but surprising less accuracy for thin/sharp pointing devices. This then rquires the two step operation of magnifying the screen and then toouching the desired object.

3-Google Android appears to be supporting touchscreen but backing away from multi-touch capabilities.

4-Apple iPhone is multi-touch real deal, but the move to laptop or tablet is confined to a touchpad in the case of laptop and rumors, Rumors, RUMORS in the case of the tablet – currently arriving in 2010.

5-Microsoft Windows 7 is committed to multi-touch screen operations, but I am from Missouri on Windows 7 since Vista was such a disappointment. So clearly my dreams of very fast operation with a touchscreen laptop have gone slightly awry. I can testify through my experiences with Photoshop using a Wacom Cintiq that the productivity gains are there to be made – I was getting through image color corrections, cropping, resizings and other retouchings in about 1/2 the time that mouse operations required.

So clearly touch screen promise is being delivered. However, it will not be standardized because Apple, HP, Microsoft, and others like Wacom are doing their own thing, and hoping that popularity in the market will establish a defacto standard. Clearly Wacom’s pressure, speed, and precision may not be in the first versions from major vendors. But also there is strong evidence that hardware and software vendors both are interested given the rise of Netbooks and the decline of their sales. Touch Screen appears to be a case of “ohh the agony of waiting and maybe getting what you wished for”.

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One Comment

  1. Outstanding post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Thanks!

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