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Display experts discuss touch technology

Posted: 09 Jun 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:touch technology  touchscreen  interface  touch panel 

The Society for Information Display (SID) conference hosted touch technology experts to explore the future of touch and interactivity for various computer and consumer applications.

"Of all our senses the sense of touch is one we cannot live without," said keynoter Bill Buxton at this one-day mini-conference. A principal researcher at Microsoft Research, Buxton comes on as a relentless advocate for innovation, design and the appropriate use of new products and technologies.'

"There is no doubt that the iPhone was a game changer in human-to-computer interface," said Buxton. "Consumers have accepted touch technology as an input technology. The question is has this acceptance stifled innovation or are others just in the mode of catching up to Apple's success."

To Buxton and other industry participants, there is much more to be done with touch technology.

The way people interact with machines is fundamental to finding the right mix of touch technologies, from tactile feedback to using what has been a natural communications medium for awhilewriting with a pen.

Buxton made his mark on the human-machine interface with his numerous career achievements and has been recognised as a pioneer in this area. In 2008 Buxton became the 10th recipient of the ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award, "for fundamental contributions to the field of computer-human interaction." In 2009 he was elected Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), for his contributions to the field of human-computer interaction.

In one of Buxton's treatises, he makes a point that touch technology has a long history. In part he states: "To put it in perspective, my group at the University of Toronto was working on multi-touch in 1984, the same year that the first Macintosh computer was released, and we were not the first. Furthermore, during the development of the iPhone, Apple was very much aware of the history of multi-touch, dating at least back to 1982, and the use of the pinch gesture, dating back to 1983."

Buxton refers to the PhD thesis of Wayne Westerman, co-founder of FingerWorks, a company that Apple acquired early in 2005, making Westerman an Apple employee:

"In making this statement about their awareness of past work, I am not criticising Westerman, the iPhone, or Apple. It is simply good practice and good scholarship to know the literature and do one's homework when embarking on a new product. What I am pointing out, however, is that 'new' technologieslike multi-touchdo not grow out of a vacuum. While marketing tends to like the 'great invention' story, real innovation rarely works that way," said Buxton.

"In short, the evolution of multi-touch is a text-book example of what I call the long-nose of innovation."

Buxton questioned what it means to have a touchscreen.

"We should not be delighted with today's progress that was amazing in the 1970s," said Buxton. "The granularity of touch technology is so fine that it is useless to describe touch [by itself] as a serious subject."

One tactic is to drill down to analyse when to deploy touch and when not to deploy touch. "Everything is best for something and worst for something else," said Buxton. "What something is worse for as well as what it is good for needs to be understood and explained clearly."

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