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Summary:

The Lenovo announcement of two ThinkPads to come available with multitouch capability lends credence to the impression that multitouch is the wave of the future. Microsoft has integrated multitouch features right into Windows 7, so is betting on the value added by them. I’ve been wondering […]

WindowsThe Lenovo announcement of two ThinkPads to come available with multitouch capability lends credence to the impression that multitouch is the wave of the future. Microsoft has integrated multitouch features right into Windows 7, so is betting on the value added by them. I’ve been wondering if multitouch really adds much value to notebooks for a good while, but until they started actually appearing all I could do was wonder. The folks at Lenovo sent me one of the new ThinkPad T400s notebooks with the multitouch features, so at last I can see if my skepticism was well-founded. I’ve only been playing with the multitouch notebook for a few days, and I have to admit my skepticism has not budged.

Lenovo has done a masterful job with the multitouch on the T400s. It is light touch, as good as that on any smartphone, and can sense up to four points simultaneously. It can detect two-handed operations; even two people can manipulate things on-screen at once with accuracy. The multitouch feature is implemented as well as it can be. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change my opinion that the feature adds little of value to notebook usage.

There are no doubt special work functions that can reap a big benefit from the addition of multitouch screens on the notebook. I can imagine those who work in 3D modeling could really use the ability to manipulate objects on the screen. Perhaps professional Photoshop jockeys can gain good mileage in much the same way. Those are just a couple of tasks that come to mind that could benefit from the special multitouch features. That’s assuming that applications exist that can take advantage of multitouch, and I don’t know if that’s the case. Not very many of us would routinely do that, anyway.

Regular users will find the Windows 7 touch features to be cool, at first. Executing things by gesture on the screen looks pretty special, and is something new and exciting. The excitement only lasts for a while, however; then the reality sets in that it’s not comfortable to keep reaching out to the screen and touching it. Notebook ergonomics didn’t evolve with direct screen manipulation in mind, and you soon start to feel that. You find that you quickly go back to using the touchpad and keyboard to do things like before. In other words — the novelty wears off pretty soon and it’s back to business as usual, with the touchscreen rarely touched.

I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being unduly harsh on the technology, so I’ve had my wife using the T400s a fair bit. She’s a typical notebook user who does the things that most folks do on a laptop. She used it for hours and when I asked her about her experience she hesitated for a bit prior to answering. She went on to explain how the multitouch features were very cool at first, that she enjoyed the “novelty of the experience.” But it didn’t take long for her to realize that the ability didn’t add much value for her uses, and she noticed after a while that she rarely touched the screen again.

She did say that if the notebook was in fact a convertible tablet that her impression might have been more favorable. Rotating the screen around to slate form would make the notebook a more comfortable form for manipulating the screen directly. I agree with that assessment 100 percent. The standard notebook form factor just doesn’t fit well with touchscreen use.

I will be showing off the nice touch implementation that Lenovo has with the T400s soon. It must be seen on video to appreciate it fully, and that’s what I’ll do. Then you can judge for yourself if I’m being too harsh on the technology or not.

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  1. I agree that Touch only adds value to Tablet style notebooks both in slate and convertible form factors. I do not think I would use Touch in a regular Notebook.

  2. I don’t see the point of multi-touch on the screen although maybe we just don’t have apps yet that can take advantage of it. But I absolutely love large multi-touch track pads of which the Macbook Pro has thre best. I see other PC manufacturers are coming out with them too.

  3. borax99 (AlainC.) Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    I have to agree that, for must users, touch will turn out to be a superfluous gimmick. As a long-time tableteer, I purchased an HP TX. Soon enough it became obvious to me that, because of the form factor and weight, the touch features added nothing to the experience. Since that discovery, I use the TX exclusively in laptop mode and have reverted to my trusty old Fuji P1610 for tablet use.

  4. Thanks Mrs Kendrick for your focus group feedback!

    I also think that smudges are another reason not to use multitouch on the screen – or is just me?

  5. Touch only seems useful when you don’t have a more convenient input option – like on a smartphone. But, as you noted, a mouse and keyboard are more ergonomic and efficient for notebook and desktop computers. If one did need to select and/or move multiple points on the screen at once, then multitouch would be helpful, but that certainly does seem to be limited in application. It looks exciting to see screen objects manipulated by flailing arms (especially on a large screen, perhaps holographic as in the movies), but much more comfortable and efficient if done with minute flicks of a few fingers, like with an old-fashioned keyboard…

  6. Hi James…
    I’ll weigh in here as I have in the past…Touch is where it’s at. I have my Lenovo x61t right now in laptop mode and using touch (albeit single-point in this now vintage machine) to scroll around f-fox (to gripe at you) and hop back and forth between my writing projects.

    Why is this so hard to adopt? It seems so natural.

    In a few minutes – after I’ve finished my soup at this little bistro – I’ll flip into tablet mode to do art. Drawing with my right hand and hitting app icons and moving my digital paper with my left.

    I still have 3 non-touch tablets that get pretty steady use…the venerable Tosh M200, a Motion ls800 and a Tosh M7. My wife’s got a Dell 10″ netbook. The touchlessness(?) of these babies drives me nuts.

    I’m never buying another numb-screen.

    t
    ps: hope to be in Housotn this fall…java’s on me.

  7. t, as I said there are no doubt special functions that fit the multi-touch mold. Professional cartoonist no doubt fits the role perfectly as you’ve aptly stated. I can’t draw squat so it’s a no-go for me.

    I’ll remember the java’s on you. Look forward to seeing you again, buddy. :)

  8. Count me in as a touch fan. And I can’t draw. I have a TX2000 and a P1620 as well as a couple of netbooks.

    I’ve gotten so used to touch. I use it mostly in laptop mode on the TX and obviously in both on the P1620 (toucjh only). I find it much faster to navigate around using my finger (nail?) than eitjher the toujch pad or the nub on the 1620. It’s 2nd nature to me. On the TX I even do “pen” flicks with my finger.

    I’m looking forward to this becoming mainstream (if MS and the manufacturers don’t stuff it up) and the OS and some programs becoming more touch friendly.

    Gordon

  9. On the Lenovo web site the T400s with touch-screen option starts at $1,999 so you’d have to make a business case for it IMHO.

  10. I have a (five year old) Thinkpad Transnote which has a touch screen of the old-fashioned type. Granted, the touch screen on the T400s is years ahead but from my experience with the Transnote in laptop mode I can’t see how this can be a viable product. Other than occasionally dismissing dialogs and occasionally scrolling a page it just does not make good ergonomic sense to use it in a laptop (as opposed to a tablet.) I can’t foresee any app that might justify having tired arms. Any CAD work can be done more efficiently with a 3D controller (like the products from 3DConnexion.) Microsoft built the touch stuff into Windows 7 in order to cater to slates and such without having to market a different specialized product. To my mind, it is a bit disingenuous to come up with a product like this and pretend that it is going to be useful.

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