Value Add for Multitouch Notebooks Is…What, Exactly?

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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