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Displays Input Devices Portables (Apple)

A Turning Point for Touch Screens, Says the NYT 129

The New York Times has a story up on the suddenly brisk market for touch screens and the devices which can make use of them, which it says "has grown quietly for years, both in commercial applications and in consumer devices." Besides the obvious (the iPhone, and Apple's use of multi-touch generally), the article also mentions the recent inclusion of Israeli company N-Trig's version of multi-touch technology in a Dell notebook computer, and some of the other places you can expect to see touchscreens instead of display-only ones in the near future — if the price drops quickly enough.
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A Turning Point for Touch Screens, Says the NYT

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  • by predder ( 1168803 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @01:31AM (#24724219)

    Forget the optimus, what about a touch screen keyboard? Sure, there's no feedback (yet) but the user could change the input style at will, using it as a mouse/tablet/music mixing device etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2008 @01:45AM (#24724257)

      art lebedev actually has a concept of one, the optimus tactus. Check it out -

      • Okay, that's pretty damn neat. I'm not sure I'd really want a 'video mode', but the customizable keyboard/input device would be handy. It would be an adjustment, not having keys that depress, but not too big of one.
    • I wouldn't want it. It's nice to have the tactile feedback. Heck, I sometimes even miss the audible feedback from typing on a Model M keyboard.
      • by Kz ( 4332 )

        Feedback is really important, but maybe it can be faked.

        when i first tried an early iPod (on a store) i wasn't sure if the wheel physically turned or not. it took me several seconds to realize it was only because of the audio feedback, and that wasn't through the earphones, but on a small piezo speaker on the device itself.

        it would be interesting to add a small vibrator under a 'screen keyboard', to and have it do a slight 'tick' on each keypress. your fingers would definitely get it, so maybe it would he

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hkz ( 1266066 )

      There's the Optimus Tactus [] concept, which is exactly that: a programmable surface that can be any keyboard (or even input device) you want.

      In my opinion the real breakthrough for that class of device is going to come when they get haptic feedback to work with multitouch screens. Haptic feedback is when you literally "feel" the virtual buttons. There are some promising advances there.

      • Optimus Tactus will need to resurrect Optimus Prime when the spores turn everyone red.
      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        In my opinion, the breakthrough will come once we get transparent hands, not before. Until then, our fingers are going to cover up whatever is being displayed, making them ill suited for more than casual input.

        As for the original submission, the author seems to forget that there's a vast difference between in-hand devices and larger ones. For one thing, you don't get gorilla arm syndrome from a handheld device. Lumping the two together doesn't work. Increased sales for one type doesn't imply anything fo

        • by maxume ( 22995 )

          Does your fixed layout keyboard give you problems?

          A programmable surface with decent tactile feedback is purely additive to a keyboard. You can have a normal keyboard, plus a keyboard for Photoshop (if you want it), plus a keyboard for Quake (if you want it), plus a keyboard for ... (if you want it).

          • by arth1 ( 260657 )

            Does your fixed layout keyboard give you problems?

            No, and that's exactly my point -- a keyboard works because it's (a) static, and (b) I do not look at it.
            Input you have to look at will only work for sporadic input, because otherwise your hands are going to be in the way.

            • by maxume ( 22995 )

              There is nothing preventing you from learning the layouts presented by a programmable keyboard. You might even program it to only ever present a single layout.

              Granted, this makes the advantages smaller, but if there was no decrease in use as a normal keyboard (it is likely there would be) and the increase in cost was small (it would likely be large), the fact that the keyboard was programmable would not prevent you from using it just like you use a static keyboard.

              Basically, you stated that your problem is

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      And your typing rate will get down considerably, but then you will at least not have to wait for Slashdot to allow you to post your new message.

    • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

      Close. For most touch screen type of thing you really need a touch screen mouse as a tablet - like an overgrown synaptics pad, but with the intelligence of a touch screen.
      Move you fingers on the pad and watch the screen. That should be intuitive enough. Sort of thing you would use for media centres etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by beelsebob ( 529313 )

      ... and yet people say the iPhone sucks without even knowing what it can do.

    • This is a fun idea, but what's really important about using a keyboard for some people, especially people who've been resistant to picking up mice whenever they don't really have to, is that they keys are always where they're supposed to be.

      For an auxiliary device, though, this would be great, something you could prop up behind your keyboard, something you could bear to look at to see what you're doing a moment while you choose where to push.

      As a regular keyboarding device, those little dots on keys, U and

    • In case you don't remember, the first multi-touch product was a keyboard []. Apple bought FingerWorks [] and began incorporating its technology into their projects.

      But as I wrote previously [], the lack of tactile feedback is a deal-killer for anybody who types in their profession. It just makes typing too slow (55 wpm vs. 120 wpm).

      Fortunately, the clever folks at FingerWorks (now Apple) have realized that, and they've been busily working on ways to reconfigure the tactile surface dynamically []. I hope they work ou

  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @01:41AM (#24724245) Homepage

    I was the design manager on Logitech's Harmony One remote and I fought for a touch screen for the programmable controls - in the past these were physical buttons beside the different controls on the remote. Implementing physical buttons close to an LCD are very difficult to implement correctly. I thought the touch panel would improve the quality of the product and give it much cleaner look to the overall product.

    I was half right - it is a gorgeous remote but the touch panel just doesn't match the rest of the remote and the time taken in the mechanical design to product an interface that you don't have to look down at to use. Coupled with the cost of the capacitive touch panel (about 10x what it would cost for poly dome and plastic/elastomer buttons) it really isn't worth it.

    I'm very unimpressed with the touch panel for typing on the iPhone and iPod touch so I'm going to be watching to see how companies design their user interfaces to give users as positive an interface as they would have with buttons.

    If it's not done well, then I would expect a backlash against touch panels by consumers.


    • I have a Razr (original model) and find it annoying that it's far too easy to unintentionally change settings when picking the thing out of its holster. More than once I've accidentally turned off the ringer or enabled speakerphone - grrr.

      The Samsung Instinct looks interesting and has a vibration feature to acknowledge button-presses, but that's got to be hard on the battery life.
    • by sam0737 ( 648914 )

      Totally agree.

      I did one universe touch screen remote control as a school project. It's done by laying a Palm touchscreen on top of a Dot Matrix LCD. Although it looks cool and earn me a A+, but practically it inherits the same problem exactly like what you have describe - touch feedback.

      I hope some day someone could invent an touch interface with dynamic texture for touch, just like the dot on the F and J key. I imagine it could be done by micro-heater (like those used in inkjet) which heat up a small bubbl

    • by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:39AM (#24724445)
      I'm very unimpressed with the touch panel for typing on the iPhone and iPod touch

      Hmm, do you type on one of those regularly?

      Yes, the physical typing experience on iPhone is pretty poor, but I find that the auto correction software pretty much makes up for it. I can type just about as fast on iPhone as on another small keyboard with physical buttons, and even though I make horrible typing errors it fixes them on the fly perfectly almost every time. You just have to trust it, just like it says in the video. On the other hand I do sometimes type in another language which is not supported by iphone (Serbian) and the result is a mess. But as long as you are typing regular text (not a lot of names or code or something) in a supported language, the software can go a long way to make use of it on a daily basis fairly bearable. On the other hand, there are considerable advantages in size, weight, flexibility etc in having the keyboard on the screen as needed so perhaps it's worth getting used to it.
      • by eebra82 ( 907996 )
        Amazingly, this silly problem is solved as soon as soon as they implement widescreen texting like the one in the browser.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, the physical typing experience on iPhone is pretty poor, but I find that the auto correction software pretty much makes up for it.

        So giw di tiy tyrb ib tgis autocorrectuib feayiutr?

      • The auto correction software is half the problem on the iPhone. It is as though it was only ever intended to be used to type URLs and search strings. Something as long as this post is painful to type on the iPhone.

        I still curse them for not having the bluetooth keyboard profile. Asenine.

      • by rtechie ( 244489 ) *

        Yes, the physical typing experience on iPhone is pretty poor, but I find that the auto correction software pretty much makes up for it. I can type just about as fast on iPhone as on another small keyboard with physical buttons, and even though I make horrible typing errors it fixes them on the fly perfectly almost every time.

        My girlfriend, who is a transcriptionist and types about 200 words per minute (really), and uses both and AT&T Tilt and iPhone, says that typing is dramatically better on the Tilt because it has a physical keyboard AND (this is the important bit) the auto-correcting is better on Windows Mobile. She can actually do transcription on the Tilt.

        As I've said in the past: Want email? Blackberry. Data-entry and third-party apps? Windows Mobile. Web surfing and media? iPhone.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @03:06AM (#24724557) Homepage

      And whenever there is a touch panel it will also be clogged by the dirty fingers people have.

      Just take a look at some people's keyboards where a large amount of brownish residue of unknown origin is accumulated.

      Many remotes also have an accumulation of some residue that you probably don't want to examine further, and by having a touch display you will get that residue even more visible.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        A touch screen is much easier to keep clean, not least because it's completely flat and has no grooves etc. for brownish residue to get caught in. Also people with iPhones and stuff that I've seen tend to keep the screen clean as a matter of pride (and the fact they've spent a small fortune on the device they want to keep it nice).
      • And whenever there is a touch panel it will also be clogged by the dirty fingers people have. Just take a look at some people's keyboards where a large amount of brownish residue of unknown origin is accumulated. Many remotes also have an accumulation of some residue that you probably don't want to examine further, and by having a touch display you will get that residue even more visible.

        While mostly true, the major point that you are missing is is that touch screens, unlike keyboards and remotes, are easily cleanable to a mostly presentable state. People with glasses probably already know the drill.

        1. Pick up glasses
        2. Huff on the glass/plastic (optional)
        3. Rub with excess T-Shirt
        4. Repeat as needed

        :%s/glasses/device with touch screen

        If you're at a public terminal and have disinfecting wipes, a touchscreen might actually be preferable, as strange as that sounds.

        • by MPAB ( 1074440 )

          What about scratches? A pellet in the cleaning process and your screen/glasses go astray.

          • Lack of tactile response is bad enough. It that sense touch screens are no worse then typical 'dishwasher safe' keypads.

            But if you lose a key every time you have a little bit of abrasive grit on your fingertip then touch screens are not ready for the world I live in.

            It doesn't have to be that bad to be a deal killer ether.

      • ah but at least with a touch screen it's easy to clean.... keyboards and remotes are impossible to clean, so if that's your concern you should go with the touch screen, just wipe it on your pant leg every so often.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by pcolaman ( 1208838 )
      Have the Harmony 880 and find that the physical buttons to the sides of the LCD are far superior for usability IMO. Being able to feel where the buttons are (there is a distinct ridge-like feeling when you move your finger from one button to another that is adjacent) make the remote easy to use when the lights are dimmed (common when watching DVD movies or a movie on TV).
    • for me,w hat would be worth it is context driven menus and buttons on say, somethign similar to a mousepad. I have a physical device i push around to move a cursor, but if i want to do something like, switch tools in Photoshop, I'd just smack the right button on the mousepad and go on my merry way.

    • The problem with a touch screen on a remote control, although it looks very cool, is that it's just not very usable. Most interaction with a remote (after the first week or two) is carried out without even looking at it. The locations of the buttons are mostly memorised, but you still need to feel where the buttons are in order to press them accurately. I've searched long and hard for a high-end universal remote control with a sensible button layout, which still looks cool, but isn't compromised by the incl

      • The problem with a touch screen on a remote control, although it looks very cool, is that it's just not very usable. Most interaction with a remote (after the first week or two) is carried out without even looking at it. The locations of the buttons are mostly memorised, but you still need to feel where the buttons are in order to press them accurately.

        Bingo. Looking at all those expensive touch screen/panel remote controls, my gut reaction is that the people buying them are gadget freaks who like them because they look cool. I found the remote control on my old digibox annoying enough because there were too many stupid little identically-shaped and laid-out buttons when navigating in the dark. I imagine that having to look down at the remote every time you wanted to select something would get annoying very quickly.

    • Actually, I think the touch-screen approach works for a lot of the functions of the iPhone - the trick is that you want to be looking at it when operating it.

      On the remote control, however, you usually memorize the locations of everything the first week and don't look at it after that.

      That said, the lower-end harmony remotes absolutely rock.

  • Exciting news, but (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aerynvala ( 1109505 )
    what's always bothered me about touchscreen technology is the screen getting dirty. It annoys me when my non-touch monitor gets smudges as it is. I freely admit, however, that I have very little direct experience with touchscreens and perhaps these new ones (iPhone, etc) have some nifty way of dealing with that.
    • by Kopiok ( 898028 )
      I can tell you from experience that they do not. I'm always wiping the screen of my Voyager after using it. >_
      • Figures. I suppose that as long as there's a quick and easy way to disable it/put it in cleaning mode so that you can wipe it down it wouldn't be too bad.
        • by Kopiok ( 898028 )
          I hit the lock button real quick. It's right on the side. That works for phones, but I'm not sure if something like a Tablet or other large screen device would have something like that.
          • My only touchscreen experience of any length is with an eBookwise eBook Reader []. It doesn't have a boot process or anything tedious like that, so I just switch it off, clean, turn it back on. I'm guessing a tablet/subnotebook sort of device would not be able to do that.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Starayo ( 989319 )
      The iPhone's screen looks horrible after using it for a few moments - I bought a matte screen protector that reduces glare and also smudging. Now It's hardly noticeable.

      Customers shouldn't have to rely on a third party addition for this though.
    • My only experience with the iPhone is the pubic unit in the local stores -- full of grease from all sorts of people, but when the screen is on, you don't notice a thing. Perhaps it's a different case outside in bright sunlight -- I don't know.

      • by mudshark ( 19714 )

        My only experience with the iPhone is the pubic unit in the local stores

        $ME reels at the mental imagery associated with this statement. What sort of local stores do you frequent, anyway?

  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:25AM (#24724387)

    Over the years I think I've touched my screen a little too much.

    Seriously, regarding LCD reliability- has anyone studied it after thousands of touches, some low pressure, some higher pressure? When I touch my LCD screen, it turns dark around my finger. Doesn't look good to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      That happens on my laptop, but it doesn't on my iPhone, which has a rigid glass screen that protects the LCD part from fingertip pressure. Unfortunately, not from fingerprints or smudges, though.

    • It can damage the screen, as a lot of laptops from around the P3 era show pressure marks on the screen from where the keyboard presses against the screen when the lid is closed. It seems that laptop manufacturers have solved this issue as newer laptops don't seem to have this problem.

  • by unlametheweak ( 1102159 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:37AM (#24724433)

    Touch screens should re-vitalize computer based porn. Think of the possibilities.

  • The DS? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:37AM (#24724439)
    I imagine that the first prolonged, day-to-day experience with a touchscreen for a lot of people would be the Nintendo DS. It's got a user base a lot larger, and demographically wider, than that of the iPhone. This isn't to knock Apple's tech and design achievements with that device and their trackpads, but I think the DS was probably pivotal in getting the general public used to operating devices with purely virtual buttons.
    • 'nuff said. There were millions sold, and people were using them quite a lot, even for reading ebooks (for example).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I guess I'm stuck in my mindset. I can still only see the touch screen as a valid method of data input in a few limited capacities. I see it as a nice addition to the POS systems, gaming systems, phones, and maybe some other small consumer gadgets.

        I can't envision me, personally, wanting to code using the screen. I can see me wanting to navigate a GPS unit or a building directory with one.

        • I agree with you, I don't find touchscreens too useful, either. The trend of installing touchscreens in the Eee PCs, for example, leaves me cold and puzzled.

      • Sure, but my point is that the DS took touchscreens to people who have absolutely no use for a PDA, a smartphone, a tablet PC, or any of the other gee-whiz Wall Street wannabe uses that touchscreens have had over the years.
    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      Yeah, I wanted to say Nintendo DS as well (started by tagging the article accordingly) but first I wanted to look around for similar posts from others.

      In my opinion it was the DS which started the lets-put-touchscreens-everywhere.

      Before the DS and at launch many considered it a failure, afterward everyone wanted to join.

      iPhone gets way to much credit, sure it may be one of the first units with multitouch and a decent interface making use of it but that's all. It's not the-thing-which-started-touchscreens.


  • by distantbody ( 852269 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:44AM (#24724467) Journal
    More innovative than the iPhone and yet they didn't even mention it in the article...
    • It's because it's not as "supercool" according to Geoff Walker, global director of product management at Tyco Electronicsâ(TM).

      The main problem with touch screens is while they're supercool, they're a pain to use. Holding my hand up to a screen for a whole day at work is probably impossible, certainly not progress in terms of input. One constraint I see is your hands have to be on the desk, and if you bring the screen down there you've other problems to do with eye strain etc. For this reason, my op
      • by aliquis ( 678370 )

        There have been prototype designs where you have a screen in front facing your face and then the touch sensetive part on the back of the device. This way you can still press virtual buttons, move around or whatever using your finger tips but more comfortable and on the back of the device and still not cover any of the screen in the front.

        A brilliant idea I must say.

    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      They have short memory ;)

  • pr0n (Score:3, Funny)

    by binaryseraph ( 955557 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @02:51AM (#24724491)
    And now pornography has a whole new platform to work with. awesome.
  • My beloved zaurus is ahead of the current times. It runs linux xfce as well as other rom images ranging from debian to kde or qtopias flavor. It has a Touchscreen. If configured properly, It has all the desktop applications available for it as well as including game emulators. My Current pocket size zaurus has over 64gb diskspace (4gb sd not included). It stores well over Tons of hours of my music cd collection as well as tons of hours of my HD home movies converted easily with avidemux from a xacti hi
    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      lol, some mac fanatic moderated your very informative post flamebait just because you told the truth (your Linux based Zaurus let you run everything and iPhone tries to prevent you from running everything =P)

      Crippled and super expensive, the way of Apple.

    • My beloved zaurus is ahead of the current times.

      Yup, probably a little too far ahead. Linux? Avidemux? I'm happy for you that you've found such a great device, but it's certainly not for everyone.

      Maybe that's what the guy who modded you down should have said instead of abusing the moderation system.

  • by suck_burners_rice ( 1258684 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @03:31AM (#24724625)
    Right, so here's my incredibly important opinion that you must agree with. Apple implemented this nifty multi-touch thing on the iPhone (and consequently on the iPod Touch). What they need to do now is extend this multi-touch thing to the computers as well. Heck, if I can see some darn thing on the screen and I want to drag it around or whatever, why shouldn't I be able to just reach out and do that? There should still be a keyboard and a rat for now. Mouse pads should also incorporate multi-touch. I think the keys on the keyboard should all have tiny displays embedded in them that can display any character. Thus, when you switch languages, the keyboard mapping will change and the keys themselves will show what character they'll type. Push Ctrl, Alt, Fn, Open-Apple, Shift, or whatever, and the keys will immediately change to reflect the characters that will be typed. Thus, lowercase letters will be displayed until Shift is held down, at which point they'll change to uppercase and the number keys will change to the symbols on those same keys. Hit Caps Lock and the appropriate behavior will take place. No more people getting confused why their password isn't being accepted or pushing all kinds of wrong keys looking for that dang ñ key when you're typing in Spanish or whatever. Simple. So, where were we? Oh yeah. Take these computers to the next level. Multi-touch on all computer displays and mouse pads. Keyboards where individual keys display what they will do. And while we're at it, how about a non-broken X implementation like there used to be in Tiger?!?
  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @03:43AM (#24724661) Homepage
    Anyone doing outsourced IT work will tell you that Elo brand touch screens are very much alive in the POS (point of sale) market. This article is way out of touch with reality. Where's the "BS" tag when we need it?
    • I second that. I do tier 1 stuff for a large national grocery chain, and ELO brand screens are in all of our pharmacies, fuel center POS and self check out registers. Not to knock the market share of the DS, but I'll bet that way more people have used a touch screen self check out register than played extensively with a DS
  • it still has a freaking BUTTON you need to use all the time. wtf is the point please?
  • Would make it a good little e-book if you wanted too, and the primary display doesn't get icky finger prints. The keyboard, or secondary screen, could have a texturized surface so that the "keys" have a bit of feel to them too, and maybe use e-ink for battery life.

  • Touch-screens are generally not that useful for general computing, outside of graphic design work (such as with the Wacom Cintiq drawing screens: [] ).

    I'd much rather have a "laptop" that had no screen at all, and a 1200x1600 head-mounted display instead. Less weight, less power, and easier to use in more situations. ~
  • The article keeps mentioning price as the driving factor, but I say it's software. I think tablets are hella cool, but until someone designs a must-have Linux app for touch screens, I'm not going to plunk down the money, no matter how small the premium is. However, if someone cooks up something really incredible, I'll pay whatever it takes to have it.

    Until the iPhone/DS most touchscreens simply mimicked the existence of regular buttons (think ATMs, POS machines, or the Harmony remote). If somebody puts that

  • They get more and more greasy as you touch them, so you have to clean them all the time and since cleaning them means touching them you end up having formatted your harddrive or something.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @03:23PM (#24728469)

    Human fingers are greasy. Show me a touchscreen that can repel all human grease and then I'll be interested.

  • I'd like to see mouse-pads being turned to touch-screen-pads.
  • I've got a touchscreen laptop at home. You don't realize how awful touchpads and joysticks (like the Lenovo trackpoint) are as pointing devices until you have a laptop that has a touchscreen.

    OTOH, I think a dedicated MOUSE is slightly superior. But you don't always have a flat surface handy.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan