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Summary:

Microsoft continues to push touch as a user interface, this time as a participant in the $24 million funding round for Israeli startup N-Trig, whose technology enables multitouch, or the use of more than one finger for input. Multitouch hit it big on the iPhone, where […]

Microsoft continues to push touch as a user interface, this time as a participant in the $24 million funding round for Israeli startup N-Trig, whose technology enables multitouch, or the use of more than one finger for input. Multitouch hit it big on the iPhone, where one uses multiple fingers to zoom in rather than one finger to drag things around the screen. N-Trig’s technology is also pressure-sensitive capacitive like the iPhone, rather than based on cameras, such as with the touch technologies used by HP’s TouchSmart PC and the Microsoft Surface table. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal hypes Microsoft’s efforts, and spends a good amount of verbiage on how touch could replace the mouse, but won’t be useful everywhere.

Ain’t that the truth. Touch is frankly inappropriate for many tasks, from typing blog entries to dealing with Excel spreadsheets. And while Microsoft (and HP, whose TouchSmart computer is fun to play with) envisions touch being used in a family room-oriented desktop for photos and recipes, I’m not so sure. It’s awkward to page through multiple photos on a vertical screen using a monitor that’s roughly an arm’s length away. Frankly a clicker would be the best option, or barring that, a mouse. And for recipes, one look at my cookbooks, which are completely nasty — waterlogged and gummed together with random food bits — is enough to convince me that the best option is one that is not electronic.

I’m not against touch, and think it adds more usability, especially when it comes to accessing a lot of information in a small space, like on a phone — but I’m not sold on it as a mouse replacement or as a UI for a traditional computer. Now bring out the Surface table, some fun games and photo-sharing software, and I’ll embrace the touch experience, but for now I think some of the industry’s push for touch is inappropriate.

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  1. I think the next big thing will be gestures, at least for stationery platforms. It’s sort of the marriage of touch and remotes and probably fills in most of the gaps between the two. Like Minority Report. Touch does seems like a good fit for mobile devices so far.

  2. Actually multitouch is just a gimmick even on the iPhone, requires two hands to use which can be “inappropriate” in mobile situations. The zooming function could be implemented with a semitransparent zoom slider, which could be manipulated with the thumb of the hand holding the phone.

  3. Stacey, great post. But, the title, is… well, hilarious.

  4. @Bobby: Agreed, the screen isn’t large enough to make multitouch worthwhile or practical.

    On a separate note, I’m interested in the new tech around touch input from behind the screen…this will definitely introduce new ways of using touch. But the best total interface will likely involve gestures and voice as well.

  5. I think the best thing would be something like the Wii did to the gaming industry. We can bring to most devices and get the gesture and movement of these things for the interactivity for a broad number of devices.

  6. I agree with Vamsi. The Wii controls let me easily interact with my Television. Like you said OM, a clicker would be great, especially if as Vamsi says, it allows for gesture movement like the Wii. I won’t always wan’t to be an arms length away. Sometimes I’d like to sit my butt down on the sofa ;)

  7. Windows 7 touchscreen opportunity with Intel Cash Register? | Attack of the Operating Systems… Monday, January 12, 2009

    [...] Stacey at Gigaom has an excellent post regarding touchscreens called “When Touching is Inappropriate”. [...]

  8. I agree that touching a monitor has its problems (just the fingerprints, for the OCD types – guilty). Gesture recognition makes sense, but how about a multi-touch pad that sits on the desk?

  9. Stacey Higginbotham Monday, January 12, 2009

    Thanks, Alex. I have a somewhat warped sense of humor.

    As for the other comments, I agree that UIs should fit the situation, which then raises the issue of how to make that possible. Do we keep a closed infrastructure as the console market does? Figure out some standards to match software to a variety of devices? What model works for general purpose computing?

  10. It could be used complimentary to other input techniques.

    Deepak

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