Windows 7 does multi-touch- been there, done that

21 Comments

Yesterday Microsoft showed a few things about the next generation operating system, Windows 7.  First up they showed they can’t keep their self-imposed silence about it and just had to show a little of the forthcoming innovation in Windows 7.  This apparently means predominantly multi-touch, the ability to make things happen with two or more fingers on the screen.  They showed how to manipulate photos by touch, zooming and unzooming, dragging them around, and the like.  Then they showed another big use for multi-touch, moving around an on-screen map with two fingers.  Both of these are brand new uses for multi-touch, oh wait, we actually have seen this before by Apple.  Millions of iPhone and iPod Touch users today are doing those exact same functions with two fingers.  This harks back to why I don’t think that multi-touch will be the Next Big Thing (NBT) in Windows 7.  Been there, done that.

21 Comments

L. M. Lloyd

Ok, a couple things here. First off, what I would hope Windows 7 brings to the table is integrated libraries for multi-touch, which app developers can use. Multi-touch devices like the ones from JazzMutant have been out for years, and even Wacom tablets have the technical capability to simultaneously recognize multiple tools. The problem is there isn’t much app support for these features. Yes, I could go on about how incredibly annoying I find it that a technology can be around for years, but it is only once Apple starts using it that people notice it, and then act like Apple invented it, but that is for another time.

As far as what it could be used for other than pictures and maps, the main application is creative. One of the biggest limitations of all creative software at the moment is the limit to a single cursor focus. Whether it is sliders in a sound program, channels in a 3D program, or tracks in a video program, having only one cursor that can only interact with one control at a time is very limiting. Some of this is gotten around right now with tools like pressure and tilt sensitive tablets, or dial/slider boxes, or tools like the JazzMutant or Spaceball. However, it would be far more useful if you could just reach up to the screen and “grab” what you wanted. Even for simple painting and Photoshop work, the ability to use more than one brush at a time would be fantastic.

Problem is, all of the current technologies at present require specific support by each app, or an app plugin to make it work. Then you have to spend time mapping the functions you want to that particular axis, and so on. If there were a device-independent OS library that just handled it all, then I think you would see a boom in alternate input methods, especially in creative software. No matter what the iPhone does or doesn’t do, we have yet to hear a word about Apple creating any desktop multi-touch libraries to do anything other than accept two fingers as a double click, and some rumors of mapping finger gestures to menu commands. Those are, at least in my opinion trivial and gimmicky implementations of multi-touch, that exist more to say “look we did multi-touch first” than to add any meaningful contribution to usability. So, if Microsoft is the one who is finally going to ditch the single-cursor, single focus methodology, then I say hooray for Microsoft.

James Kendrick

Marc, I’m not dismissing the technology, far from it. But a lot of folks say that uses for the technology will come along, I’m just asking what they might be.

One thing is for certain, I don’t want specialized features like this that requires special hardware to be integrated as yet another feature in the OS. I’d rather an OS that is lean and mean over a bloated one that tries to do everything for everyone.

Marc

“Not sarcastic and not bashing MS. I am still waiting for ANYONE to give me a usage for multi-touch on a normal-sized screen device (not handhelds) where the technology can play a significant role. I have not been given one yet by anyone. It always comes down to manipulating photos and maps, and that’s not something that I do much on anything other than a handheld because with a bigger screen I don’t need to.”

It might not play THE significant role you want it to be. But it will play an additional role next to the existing input methods. For some areas (games, digital editing, etc.) it will open new possibilities. Point, touch, manipulate without the use of an extension will make interaction with a machine feel more ‘natural’.

Please keep in mind this technology is still rather ‘new’. Applications still have to be written for it and that will not be only for manipulating maps and pictures. Try thinking where multitouch can be useful instead of saying “I don’t need it”. Your needs aren’t always our needs.

Besides, what’s a normal-sized screen anyway? The trend for desktop pc is that screens are getting bigger and bigger. Multitouch interaction is more useful on a big screen than on a small screen where 1-2 fingers are more than enough, otherwise you hand will block the view.

Paul J Manoogian

Other than the hardware catching up with the software issues in the mainstream, this is cool technology, and it doesn’t need to be limited to one vendor; like Apple. There have been a plethora of innovations that Microsoft has funded in their Research labs, that no-one knows ever existed. That Nike iPod thing? MS had technology similar to that two years before Nike/Apple introduced it. Apple is great at marketing, so they know WHEN to get the cool-factor technologies out the door.

Besides, hasn’t anyone ever seen/heard of Surface computing? If you actually have seen/played with one of these things, you’d see that MS had already created this software interface to a hardware technology. As a technology, it has plenty of applications where physical manipulation of information is more natural to people than using a mouse. I think my 78-year-old dad could handle moving a picture around with his fingers more readily than using a mouse; the mouse concept is foreign to him. How about using it for patients recovering from a stroke? How about using it for teaching kids?

So, all-in-all, it’s not about WHO invented it, it’s about putting technology to good use.

Ken A

One of things I found hilarious in the leaked whitepaper on WM7 last year was the whole gesture thing. They were talking about “shaking the device” in all sorts of ways (I guess they had to differentiate from Apple somehow) and all I could imagine looking at the diagrams of someone with a phone shaking it back and forth was my $500 tilt crashing into the pavement like a wiimote because I was trying to shake a new photo onto the screen in my photo album.

WM is my OS of choice but it has issues and is ugly at it’s core. Even the HTC Touch Diamond, which does a good job of masking WM is still like putting lipstick on a pig. One of the biggest issues to me is not software, but hardware. Passive touch screens like WM devices use that are not flush simply cannot do a decent job of mimicking the Iphone.

billy

This first appeared in FingerWorks products, not Apple, as implied in the post. Apple bought fingerworks and shut them down. Fingerworks products were crossplatform, and when Apple bought them out, they took their technology and made it Apple only. After that, used Fingerworks products would sell for much more than their new cost on ebay, and my stuff was promptly stolen. To this day I wish I had one of their touchpads back in my possession. I used to use it in Opera, even before Opera started doing mouse gestures.

Lorie Ghamy

Maybe the future of multi-touch for desktop PC will be a screenpad near the keyboard with the copy of the main screen on…

Chad Taylor

I can think of plenty of things that i do everyday that it would help me with. Of course i work in the media field so i might be the exception. My dream of running sound live with just a touch screen has to this point been ok but will excel with a multi-touch device with support.

Like touch screens now with gesturing it will really ramp up your productivity when multi-touch gestures come along.

I have to ask why wouldn’t multi-touch sell Windows 7, it has sold the iPhone. I can’t think of any other reason why i would even be interested in the iPhone than multi-touch.

I know if Vista had multi-touch then i would actually have bought a Dell Latitude XT and be happy as can be right now. I’m waiting now for Windows 7 and even more multi-touch hardware to come along. I do however hope they don’t mess up 7 like they did Vista.

Of course OS and Hardware is only part of the equation. Having software that will support multi-touch will be imperative.

Also remember that the iPhone is limited to two finger touch and their are times when i can see using 8 or 10 points at a time. Can you imagine how quick it would be to organize files into folders using multiple fingers? How about mixing audio and pushing more than one fader at a time? Some see this as a toy, i see it as a tool.

Food for though.

crt

Loren Heiny

@FlyingShawn: Microsoft would have been better off showing something more unique. Like James said, we’ve seen similar things before.

I agree, though, that the big story here is that Windows 7 itself will carry this capability–although no idea if this will be available in all versions or not.

I would add that multi-touch makes sense with large displays (whiteboards) too. Why limit an interactive classroom or conference whiteboard, for instance, to one touch point and one user?

Is multi-touch all that useful on a notebook? Will it convince people to buy a new Tablet PC with this capability? Maybe for a few of us. But I think James is correct that we’re going to have to see more compelling demos to capture the attention and imagination of most people. Maybe if they’d shown multi-touch Solataire rather than Microsoft Paint…:-)

James Kendrick

Not sarcastic and not bashing MS. I am still waiting for ANYONE to give me a usage for multi-touch on a normal-sized screen device (not handhelds) where the technology can play a significant role. I have not been given one yet by anyone. It always comes down to manipulating photos and maps, and that’s not something that I do much on anything other than a handheld because with a bigger screen I don’t need to.

FlyingShawn

Wow James, why so sarcastic today?

Please, please don’t let yourself fall into the (all too common lately) trap of thinking that anyone doing multi-touch is just copying Apple; how many multi-touch concept demos did we see in the couple of years prior to the announcement of the iPhone? (I can think of at least two or three, although I didn’t save the links) The one that stands out the most in my mind is also the one that I first remember seeing the types of gestures that Apple ended up implementing (like spreading fingers to zoom), and that demo certainly wasn’t funded by Apple or on an Apple device. I’m not trying to bash Apple here, I’m just getting tired of the number of people who think that anyone using multi-touch is just “copying the iPhone.” Yes, Apple was the first to bring multi-touch to the market, but they didn’t invent it.

I’m definitely still hoping that Microsoft will make Windows 7 better for scaling onto different hardware (aka, a “Windows Lite” for less powerful devices), but that doesn’t take away from how much I’m excited at having multi-touch on a tablet (I know that you don’t see much need for it with your usage model, but I personally think it’ll be really useful).

Gavin Miller

Yes it’s true that Apple has of course led the way on this but that has been on their mobile devices, and to some extent multitouch touchpads.

The majority of computer users however still associate PC use with Windows. The article on Windows 7 and ‘Touch’ has been the 3rd most read article on the BBC News page today, so it IS still news.

It is possible Microsoft could still take a lead on this, gaining on the experience of Tablet PC and let’s face it, one thing Vista does have going for it is its ‘touch’ awareness.

PJE

That got me thinking….

What we need is a 7+” iPhone type MID device which can be used standalone, but can be docked with a PC/Mac to provide a consistent secondary display with multi-touch capabilities.

PJE

The problem with Multi-Touch for Microsoft is that it’s a hardware feature. So until everyone has compatible hardware the functionality is limited.

Unless there is a common standard, which Apple can apply to their own hardware but Microsoft will have trouble specifying to the multitude of OEMs, the implementation will change from system to system.

Multi-Touch will be nice, don’t get me wrong, but we’ll all need something like a multi-touch Wacom Cinq 21UX to get the most from it.

Rick Huizinga

James, handwriting recognition wasn’t new or innovative when MS introduced XP Tablet PC edition either. My point being is that you find this to be a very useful feature of the operating system today, and I’m sure that multi-touch technology will be a very useful method to interact with a computer in the future (when it is integrated in the OS).

Donovan

well, if all you’re doing is manipulating photos, and zooming in on maps, yea not so impressive.

But if you’re in design, this could be very good. Imagine drafting, using multitouch, or 3d modeling, or conceptual design.

Now, if i could just get the multitouch wall integrated into a a drafting table,

PJE

It looks like Microsoft are once again following the trends rather than developing them!

I’d much rather Windows 7 be a lightweight and efficient virtual machine OS, both the OS and the applications could run as separate protected entities. If you need to run an XP application then you’d run a lightweight XP OS image in one virtual machine just to ran that application. Give them a protected way to share data and you’ll have a very powerful system.

Carbwell

it doesnt matter when the only thing Apple has managed to implement it in is their handheld OS, wait until they can manage to do it for their real OS like OSX. i wont be holding my breath though, they dont even have good HW recognition for that yet.

vm-01

Not to mention the fact that it doesn’t really seem that useful for anything besides zooming.

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