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Touch Computers and Changing Form Paradigms

June 24th, 2010

As of late, there has been some debate over how multi-touch computers will evolve. Microsoft has built multi-touch into their Windows 7 OS, but it is as if they don’t really know what to do with it from there. As has often been pointed out, a touch screen on a traditional computer is not really feasible. You simply won’t want to hold your arms out to touch a computer screen for any length of time, and will quickly revert to the keyboard and either a mouse or a trackpad. You hands want to touch the table, not a wall.

But it seems like everyone is missing a key element here: we do not need to keep the current form factor of PCs. Right now, there are a variety, but all consist of a screen which is more or less vertical, perpendicular to the desktop. Even the laptop form is not perfect for multitouch, yet we expect that will persist as well.


The advantages of a touch-screen interface are fairly clear, or should be. So the question becomes, why stay married to form factors which are not consistent with the new technology? Why not simply change the way a computer looks and operates, if that form will function much better? Up until now, the proposals have not been ideal. Jobs and Apple have come up with the best short-term (or small-format) form: the iPad, which you can place in whatever position suits you best.

For a larger computer, however, say a touchscreen more than 20“ large, the tablet form will not work; it needs to be planted on a desk somehow. Microsoft has their ”Big Ass Table“ concept (which they call ”Surface,“ but I like ”Big Ass Table“ much more), but that’s a nonstarter. Aside from being horrendously big and expensive, you won’t want your workspace to be flat like that. Instead, you’re going to want a computer which lays down at an angle,easy to both view and touch or even rest your hands on.


This form factor presents itself naturally. Imagine buying a computer in, say, 2013–a 30” screen which is more or less presented to you just as that, a large visual surface which constitutes your work area. The guts of the computer (if they will not fully fit in the screen) will be in the base, which acts as a pedestal. No physical keyboard, no mouse, nothing visible but this slab of a screen, tilted gently up in front of you. You turn it on (it awakens instantly, no boot-up), and it’s just there. The interface is minimal, giving you all you need to work and nothing more, getting out of the way as much as possible. Perhaps the screen could, if you so wanted, detach from the base unit in which the computer itself is housed (wireless video connection) and you could lean back with the screen on your lap, big as it might be.

Look at the video of Jeff Han at TED in 2006 giving the world a sneak preview of multi-touch, only a year later to be used by Steve Jobs in the iPhone. Note how he has the computer set up: that’s the way computers will probably be.

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  1. Tom
    June 24th, 2010 at 09:41 | #1

    I met Jeff Han about 2 years ago when I was demoing some art at Siggraph in LA and I have to say he presents himself as a visionary. He really was interested and intrigued in everything around him. Technology expos are his candy store.

  2. Tim Kane
    June 24th, 2010 at 21:03 | #2

    Did you see this? I’m sure you’ll find this interesting.


    Students get free Ipad? What was that you were saying about a text book reader?

  3. Tim Kane
    June 24th, 2010 at 21:25 | #3

    @Tim Kane
    Scratch that. I thought they were giving away Ipads. I was a tad hasty

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