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Input Devices GUI Microsoft Software Technology

Why Did Touch Take 4 Decades to Catch On? 245

theodp writes "You probably saw media coverage of Bill Gates showing off touch-screen technology to his CEO play group last week. With the introduction of the iPhone and iPod Touch, touch (and multi-touch) technology — which folks like Ray Ozzie enjoyed as undergrads way back in the early '70s — has finally gone mainstream. The only question is: Why did it take four decades for its overnight success? Some suggest the expiration of significant patents filed during '70s and '80s may have had something to do with it — anything else?"
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Why Did Touch Take 4 Decades to Catch On?

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  • Lightpens (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gilesjuk ( 604902 ) <<giles.jones> <at> <>> on Saturday May 17, 2008 @05:08PM (#23447824)
    Lightpens never caught on, a shame really as I like the idea.

    Problem is back then the screen technology was poor, low res and curved.
  • The UI (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cuby ( 832037 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @05:25PM (#23447908)
    Who needs touch screens to insert text in a command line? (70's and 80's way)
    Unless the UI is appealing and useful, they don't add any value, that's why they are becoming popular now.
  • Latency (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 17, 2008 @05:28PM (#23447924)
    honestly, when thinking of the zillions of public terminals with a touch screen interface i ve used so far, i always thought touchscreens suck. like most of us, i figured it s probably because im missing the haptic feedback. however, after recent playing with the newest apple touchscreen products, i figured out the real thing that was bugging me out: for some strange bogonic reason those terminals always had an unbearable latency time, you push and then .... finally, after ages, the screen would react. the apple products have no lag, and surprise, they are actually quite enjoyable to use
  • by That's What She Said ( 1289344 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @05:28PM (#23447926)
    I agree with the fixed position, but I invite you to think a little about the remote control issue.

    My DVD recorder's remote has so many buttons! For example, there are 3 keys to go to on-screen menus:

    * Top Menu - where you can choose what to watch from the programs recorded on the internal HD;

    * Home Menu - goes to the player's menu where you can go to the "top menu" or change player settings;

    * Menu - goes to the DVD menu, if there's a DVD in the player.

    I know this remote control is awfully designed and could do with half of the keys, but this is only one example of how a "contextual key pad" could be used. And you need a graphical interface for that, in my opinion.

    And I can't really used this remote without looking at it, I can assure you.

    One could argue that a DVD recorder/player with an internal HD is a multi-function device and I could agree with that.
  • by Valkyre ( 101907 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @05:40PM (#23447998) Journal
    I think the reason you haven't seen touch catch on before now is because of how horrendous it is. Tactile feedback isn't just a side effect of current interface methods, it's an important aspect to input. Even ignoring problems with touch that may be solved as the technology matures (dirt/grease, unintentional gestures, dirtying up a display that doubles as the input device, losing finger position), touch simply doesn't feel like interaction.

    As far as actual devices go, having sold both touch and classical variants on appliances, I can say that the more often someone uses a touch interface, the less inclined they are to continue using it. When someone's favorite model transitions to a 'touch' type interface, they can't return it for what they had been using fast enough. It's the hot new thing that nobody likes to use, but everyone thinks is real pretty.

    Even Star Trek, the hands-down Sci-Fi 'King of Touch' acknowledged the technology's limitations. To quote Tom Paris: "I am tired of tapping panels. For once, I want controls that let me actually feel the ship I'm piloting."
  • Clumsy... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @05:54PM (#23448076) Homepage
    A finger is a rather clumsy interface device compared to the pinpoint precision offered by a mouse. And when the OS and all of the software on that platform is designed for a keyboard and a mouse, then change becomes hard.

    Read Apple's user interface guidelines for developing applications and web applications for the iPhone. Touch screen interfaces truly require (to overuse the phrase once again) a new interface paradigm.

    Multitouch trackpads, on the other hand, simply overlay gestures on top of existing mechanisms. A two-finger tap is a "right click". A two-finger scrolling gesture translates easily into "scroll wheel" input. All events which existing systems and software understand.

    A "pinch", however, is a new type of input that has no translation. As such, software has to be reprogramed to understand that type of event, and then perform the appropriate behavior.
  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @06:14PM (#23448214)

    they have usurped microsoft for title of tech company most damaging to progress.

    No, they would have to repeatedly dish out lies, FUD, and cripple other companies financially to the point that they have to sell to MS or someone else, and do so for 20+ years, before they could EVER hope to approach the damage Microsoft has done.
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @06:15PM (#23448220)
    I think most people have encountered this phenomenon. I don't really think the remote is the problem though, it is the multiple devices. If you (not you, them) think of everything as a channel instead of a channel on a specific device, you aren't going to do a very good job of remembering how to switch to a given channel (because it then becomes "how do I get to that channel" instead of "how do I get to that channel on that device", which is easy).

    The solution is a tuner that presents a list of channels that are available and has the smarts to switch among the devices to get to each channel.
  • by cryptochrome ( 303529 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @06:38PM (#23448414) Journal
    The one piece of tech that really makes touch possible is flatscreen LCD technology with scratch-proof surfaces and rapid response. That's important. But what's even more important is designing products for touch, not just slapping it on.

    Take the iPhone. When you use it, you're not just using your fingers - you're also using the hand holding the item, keeping it in place and even moving it a little to assist in accuracy. Physically it is better suited to touch than a laptop, which up until recently were thick and heavy. Also, laptops generally have a mandatory keyboard getting in the way. Worse, the keyboard/mouse combo is more convenient for the GUI OS in place. The iPhone on the other hand completely reinvented the GUI to support touch. Other new technologies like the touch table are doing much the same thing, albeit in different ways.
  • by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @07:48PM (#23448958) Homepage Journal
    Dispatchers aren't supposed to provide the safety, that's built into the signalling system. I remember a dispatcher throwing his headset down on the floor in disgust saying "they'll stop". Sometimes the communications are bad or misunderstood and a train passes the siding it should be on.

    Pretty much the worst thing that could happen is a "cornfield meet". But in signal territory that means both trains entered a block with red signals.
  • by gerardrj ( 207690 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @09:21PM (#23449528) Journal
    To do that with my remote involves pushing the "Watch Movie" button, and when the DVD ends, pressing the "Watch TV" button.

    Its not touch screen, just a Logitech Harmony 670.

    The thing that this line of remotes does differently is that you don't control devices, you control actions. My housemate doesn't have to remember to switch to "Video-2" to watch cable tv, or "Component-1" to watch a DVD, the remote knows all that and hides it all behind the simple activity options.
  • by Taleron ( 875810 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @09:37PM (#23449600) Homepage
    I own a DS, but no games for it - the one purpose it serves is as a small, handy digital sketchbook when using Colors! [] for quick little sketches during the day. A ton smaller than lugging around any laptop with a Wacom tablet or even a regular sketchbook, and the DS Lite's screen is really quite nice for working on - bright, accurate, and responsive.
  • by jp102235 ( 923963 ) on Saturday May 17, 2008 @09:39PM (#23449616)
    OK, I never flew f-16's, but I did fly C-5's... lots of buttons, switches and MFD's... waaaayyyy too many. As much money as the USAF pays for avionics, my alpine iva-w205 [] has a tactile feedback on the touchscreen that is way more advanced than what I worked with in FRED. [].. The feedback system is kinda weird and creepy at times... but its basic idea is innovative.. why is this in a car stereo and not on some cool computing devices or lcd based fingerworks touchstream keyboard?
    Perhaps some braile-based feedback touchscreen could do it... More fun : apply small electrical shocks to the user's fingers for even better feedback possibilities... but I am not sure that's gonna sell.
    typed on a fingerworks touchstream keyboard
    with no feedback whatsoever!
  • It became popular and available when the time was right, nothing more.

    That's partly true.

    I have a Compaq Concerto [], one of the first touch-screen notebooks. I bought mine in 1994, but they were available for a couple of years before that.

    The touch-sensing hardware is good enough, but the cpu (486/25) struggles under the load and the computer feels unresponsive.

    The big problem though is software. MS introduced Windows for Pen Computing for this computer, and it sucks badly. It was never really updated either. Unfortunately, that was also when the Windows monopoly started to bite, so there was no other player to pick up the touch computing slack, and the concept withered until now.

    I'd say the monopoly was the biggest problem.

  • You arm falls off (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AndyCanfield ( 700565 ) <> on Sunday May 18, 2008 @03:21AM (#23451166) Homepage
    If you use a touch screen for an hour your arm falls off. Human arms are not muscled to hover. Mice won out because you can lay your arm on the desk and push the mouse around with minimal muscle power. Minority Report looked great but if you had to do wave your arms around all day long you'd die of cramps overnight.
  • Re:Clumsy... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LordVader717 ( 888547 ) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @07:09AM (#23451978)
    You could try this [].

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.