Hardware

Touch screens: On the rise or in a niche?


Touch screens, mostly limited to special purpose applications like PDAs and ATMs, are receiving an update and a makeover. The iPhone, Apple's take on the ubiquitous cell phone, includes a highly sensitive touch screen with the ability to filter out inadvertent touches and also to handle multiple touch input like using two fingers to resize a photo. The iPhone also recognizes "gestures," a navigation aid familiar to some Firefox users that allows a user to navigate through simple movements and button combinations. Microsoft has also entered the touch screen fray as they have started hyping "Surface" (formerly code named Milan), a tabletop sized touch screen with a myriad of possible applications.

Microsoft Surface

Touch Screens Take Over (Time)

Other applications are also arriving, with a company called TaxiTech approved by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to provide touch screen systems that riders can use to check movie times, pay by credit card, or just surf the Web. Portable video game systems are also on the bandwagon, with the Nintendo DS providing a touch screen gaming platform. Unfortunately, many states are moving away from touch screen voting as a result of complaints, ranging from the wrong candidate being chosen to the lack of a paper trail for vote auditing.

Playing the Touching Game (Wired)

TaxiTech(TM) Approved to Provide Interactive Touch Screens (The Auto Channel)

Florida Bans Touch-Screen Voting Machines (PC World)

I am a huge fan of the touch screen. The only reason I don't have a TabletPC is that with school, kids, and a mortgage, I just don't have the money. Microsoft's Surface appears to be the device that I have wanted to use in place of a desk for years. I would love to be able to resize windows, open and arrange pictures, and otherwise control my computer with my fingers rather than a mouse. I suspect that touch screen technology will continue to drop in price and spread in availability, I hope to the point that even I can afford it.

What applications do you see on the horizon for touch screen applications? Do you see them becoming mainstream or do you think they will continue to be relegated to niche markets? What do you think of Microsoft Surface (and its $10,000 price tag)? Join the discussion.

16 comments
roaming
roaming

The MS Surface has no room for your legs underneath it. Every photo I have seen of it shows the person with their legs splayed around the central trunk containing the projector and cameras. And none of them shows a woman wearing a skirt using it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The Surface is simply multitouch technolgoy that's been in university labs for over ten years now. MS just "borrowed" the idea and made a retailable product. This is only generation one; some of us remember when laptop meant something that looked like a sewing machine case with a handle out the top. I still have an old "laptop" that's about a foot and a half wide by two feet long with a half foot section at the front that flips up to reveal a keyboard and narrow B/W screen.

rclark
rclark

The tech exists to create the touch screen as a lamination over any type of surface. This first outing of course uses existing components to try and drive the price down. Think of the new flexible organic screens that are being developed in Japan, tie that along with the idea of surface and you have a laminate that could replace counter tops, table tops, windows (the real kind), walls, and all television screens. When in default mode, they would either be clear panes of glass, marble countertops, simulated wood grains, a display of the Mona Lisa, etc. When needed for specific media, like TV, they change to become a display. When surfing, they are the computer monitor. Think large scale displays that work at the speed of thought. You are not even close to what is coming...... Imagine if you will a villa like the old style Japanese house. With rice paper walls. Instead of rice paper, they are organic displays. Able to be any color, any combination of 3D art, any type of design. Able to be completely clear or not, at the touch of a button. Your house will be reconfigurable like your desktop is now, and about as portable. Just move the wall, it will only weigh a couple of pounds. Think of clothes that change color and texture at the time you put them on. Mood clothes. Think of walking advertisements. I read recently of young women that were renting out their midriffs for temporary advertising tatoos. Why stop there? Their whole bodies can become walking billboards. It won't only be more than we imagine, it will be more than we can currently imagine.

roaming
roaming

Yeah, I've seen better stuff than MS's Surface already. At the city mall where I live the information kiosk has had a good touch screen interface for a couple of years. The desktop is projected onto a frosted panel on a glass wall and people can touch the display from the outside of the kiosk and browse the web. It looks so much more impressive than MS's effort and if what the guy at roughlydrafted.com said is correct, they even faked some of it.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

What touch screen devices do you currently use? Do you see a market for devices like Microsoft Surface? How long do you think it will be before the touch screen is represented in force in the mainstream market?

rclark
rclark

Also have a tough book on loan, but it has a tiny display and that is too small for my main work device, so I passed on using it for my main box. But I did experiment with it to make sure I could stand the pen based computing. I've set up my order for the x61 as a desktop with full docking, keyboard, monitor, but I plan to use it most of the time as a tablet when away from my desk.

dennis.e.raschke
dennis.e.raschke

The problem is precision, not intuitivenes. Think of finger painting vs. using a pen. Fingers are great for broad gestures. They suck for writing.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

as if touching another user's keyboard or grabbing a dirty bathroom doorknob wasn't enough. Also, looking at fingerprint marks on the screen isn't quite appealing either.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

I have a one year old and a three year old. If there is a germ out there, they bring it right up to me.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

My notebook has a touchscreen and a thumbpad. I can't even consider using the thumbpad in Windows where the touchscreen has driver support. Now, if only I could track down *nix support for the Toughbook 27's screen.

D.I.Y.
D.I.Y.

Imagine your monitor covered in fingerprints. There's your touchscreen after a few hours of constant use.

Gary.Cooper
Gary.Cooper

In the movie Minority report they use motion gloves. These will be the touch screens replacement. See http://www.immersion.com/3d/products/cyber_glove.php Granted these gloves are still expensive, but these gloves are used more for motion capture for puppets and animation. A cheeper limited functioning version is only a matter of time. Then there is the spyders they used to search an appartment building in the movie. Check what DARPA is wanting...http://www.gcn.com/online/vol1_no1/44510-1.html

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

A large number of mfgr's use touch screens in production lines to control robots, assembly lines, even resturants to make order entries. Different companies make a large cross section of designs. Some are capacitive induction type, individual cells in a matrix overlay, others use IR emitters and detectors to sense where the screen is touched. Most are used where a keyboard would be awkward or where a keyboard would be subjected to a harsh environment and fail quickly. Designing software is easy and most often just a keyboard representation on the display or just a field of available selections. Nothing new here.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

Touch screens are nowhere near new, I saw my first one in the early 80s. Restaurants use touch screens widely, as do (as you mentioned) manufacturers. However, they are becoming more prevalent and visible to people with the advent of tablet PCs, extended features in cell phones, and neat (but WAY too expensive) stuff like MS Surface.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The comfortable position of the arms and hands are not eye-level. I can see it taking off with hand-held devices and interfaces with that regard, but for stationary/fixed devices, I don't see it taking off.

maria
maria

The truth is that "touch screens" are an everyday part of your life already. Whether it be the supermarket, retail self-check-out areas,(such as Wal-Mart), retail interactive kiosks, or your local ATM; it is guaranteed that you are using touch screens EVERYDAY! Too easy to integrate into existing enviroments.