Give your computer the finger: Touch-screen tech arrives

Time to kiss your mouse goodbye?

Although most people hadn't heard of multitouch until the iPhone's debut last year, Bill Buxton and his colleagues at the University of Toronto were experimenting with multitouch computer technology as early as 1984.

Buxton, now a researcher for Microsoft, says touch technology may be following a path similar to that of the mouse, which was co-invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1965 but did not reach a critical mass until the introduction of Windows 95 some 30 years later. Buxton calls these decades-long ramp-ups the "long nose of innovation," and he says they are surprisingly common.

Touch now may be where the mouse was in about 1983, Buxton says. "People now understand there is something interesting here that's different. But I don't think we yet know what that difference could lead to. Until just one or two years ago there was a real separation between input devices and output devices. A display was a display and a mouse was a mouse."

But now, he says, the idea that a screen can be bidirectional is on the cusp of catching on. "So now not only can my eye see the pixels, but the pixels can see my finger."

Touch anywhere

Although they have not gotten much traction in the marketplace yet, advanced touch technologies from IBM may point a way to the future. In its Everywhere Displays Project, IBM mounts projectors in one or more parts of an ordinary room and projects images of "touch screens" onto ordinary surfaces, such as tables, walls or the floor.

Video cameras capture images of users touching various parts of the surfaces and send that information for interpretation by a computer. The touch screens contain no electronics -- indeed no computer parts at all -- so they can be easily moved and reconfigured.

A variation on that concept has been deployed by a wine store in Germany, says Claudio Pinhanez at IBM Research. The METRO Future Store in Rheinberg has a kiosk that enables customers to get information about the wines the store stocks. But the store's inventory was so vast customers often had trouble finding the particular wine they wanted on the shelf. They often ended up buying a low-margin wine in a nearby bin of sales specials, Pinhanez says.

But now the kiosk contains a "show me" button which, when pressed, shines a spotlight on the floor in front of the chosen item. The spotlighted area is not yet an input device as described above, but it easily could be, Pinhanez says.

IBM is also working on a prototype system for grocery stores that might, for example, illuminate a circle on the floor that asks, "Do you want to take the first steps toward more fiber in your diet?" If the customer touches "yes" with his foot, the system projects footsteps to the appropriate products -- high-fiber cereal, say.

"Then you could make the cereal box itself interactive," Pinhanez says. "You touch it, and the system would project information about that box on a panel above the shelf."

Asked if interactive cereal boxes might be a solution in search of a problem, Pinhanez says, "The point is, with projection and camera technology you can transform any everyday object into a touch screen." He says alternatives that are often discussed -- a store system talks to customers through their handhelds, for example -- are hard to implement because of a lack of standards for the devices.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gary Anthes

Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?