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Something to think about... / blog
Useful Products with Multi-Touch

Written by on September 26, 2007

We have seen an explosion of multi-touch examples over the last 6-12 months - From pure technical demonstrations, to stunning rich media presentations like Microsoft Surface. But, almost all of them looks and works the same way.

Multi-touch is an incredible progression in interaction design. It allows us to directly manipulate - instead of having to use one device to use another. We no longer have to use a mouse to use a computer, nor use a pen to use a PDA or a mobile phone.

Multi-touch also allow us to mix physical objects with virtual ones. E.g. Microsoft Surface demonstrated how we could get direct feedback from a glass put on a table or share photos directly from your digital camera.

But the problem with most multi-touch concepts is while they look cool, they do not really solve any new problems. Microsoft Surface created something special, not because of the technology (many others had done the same), but because they created a new interaction principle.

11 Multi-touch capabilities

  1. It does not force us to use one device to use another device. That is, we do not have to use a mouse to use a computer, or use a pen to use our PDA or a mobile phone. It allows us to create interaction principles beyond the desktop metaphor (icons and menus are desktop metaphors - forget about them, and move to direct interaction instead)
  2. Multi-touch allows several people to work together using the same physical space. This gives us the ability to push collaborative teamwork to the next level.
  3. Multi-touch devices with internet capabilities allow you to "physically" collaborate even when you are not physically together. One way is to simply transmit the position of other people's hands.
  4. Multi-touch allows us to mix the physical world with the virtual one - mixing real objects with virtual spaces.
  5. High-definition multi-touch allows you to make graphics previously only possible using real world canvas' - think detecting each hair in a painters brush, instead of the tip of a stylus with a brush effect.
  6. Multi-touch takes scrolling to a completely new level - think zooming, spinning, sliding, flipping, perspective positioning etc.
  7. Multi-touch allows you to use 3D in ways that have never been usable before (no, I am not referring to Second Life).
  8. Multi-touch allows you to create games that challenge our minds and physical skills - Think Wii with touch.
  9. Multi-touch turns folders into piles, tabs into clusters, columns into blobs.
  10. Multi-touch may even work when you don't touch it - think proximity detection and gestures.
  11. Multi-touch works best when combined with something else - multi-touch alone is actually pretty boring. Combine, mix and transform.

This is just some of the capabilities that multi-touch offers you. Your challenge is not to implement them, but to find new and brilliant ways to solve people's problems, create new opportunities, change people's workflow into something extraordinary or invent something that push the boundaries of what we can do.

Just replacing the mouse or pen with a touch-screen does not really change that much. Apple's iPhone is not really that spectacular. It is basically just desktop interaction with your fingers admittedly with a twist).

It is faster in some situations, and it is much more convenient with mobile devices - but it does not solve the fundamental problems with interaction. You constantly have to navigate around an interface, you still have to deal with menus and buttons, and you still struggle with "modes".

Multi-touch allows you to go beyond all that - but you have to think differently than what you are used to. And, multi-touch does not have to be on a table or a mobile phone.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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