Thursday, October 29, 2009

I just ordered an HP TX2z Multi-Touch Notebook

Well, after waiting a pretty long time I finally pulled the trigger and purchased a Windows 7 multi-touch computer. My personal choice was the HP TouchSmart tx2 NoteBook.

While there are a lot of Windows 7 multi-touch machines to choose from I chose the tx2 for several reasons which I thought I would share with you.

1st, It's a Tablet.
The first attraction was form factor. I'm convinced that a tablet or slate form factor is the way to go for multi-touch. The only other form factor I would consider would be drafting-table style for productivity work. Personally, I think the All-in-One mutli-touch PCs are not going to work all that well. I also feel that a notebook without a swiveling screen (a standard Notebook) is a poor choice for a multi-touch computer. A good alternative to a tablet would be a slate which would be thinner. The slate would have to come with a bluetooth keyboard/mouse or docking station, however.

2nd, Price
The HP TouchSmart tx2 starts at around $900.00, which is very affordable.

3rd, Legacy
HP has been selling this machine for months and I suspect that by now they have worked out most of the bugs. Personally, I don't want to buy a vendor's first multi-touch machine - I want a model with some miles on it.

4th, Text Input Alternatives
Text entry on a touch screen is a pain to say the least. There are three options for text entry in my opinion, a traditional keyboard, speech-t0-text, and pen based input. The xt2 comes with a keyboard, it has a microphone, and it includes a digital pen. I get all three for the price of one! I also believe that when the notebook is folded into a tablet, pen input is far more convenient than unfolding it to use the keyboard. Especially when text entry is light as in the case with a web browser.

5th, Upright Docking Station
HP offers an upright docking station for use with your HP TouchSmart tx2. I want to be able to place it in this doc and use it with a normal keyboard and mouse when working at my desk.

I've looked closely at the various offerings. Some are less expensive, or have a different form factor, but for me the HP TouchSmart tx2z is perfect. This is the machine I recommend if you are looking for a productivity device, need flexibility, and don't mind a small screen. Your situation may be totally different.

I do have a couple of concerns the biggest is the fact that it uses a 64-bit operating system. I've always chosen 32-bit when possible because I'm afraid my software won't work out of the box with a 64-bit computer. I had to bite the bullet on that one - I hope I'm not disappointed. My other concern is that something better will come along and I'll regret buying a Windows 7 machine so quickly. Of course, you can worry about that with just about everything. I need the device now so that I can begin using it in my professional life. My wife will use it too.

One more thing: I also got it with the fingerprint authentication which was only an extra $25.99. Automatic authentication by fingerprint is a very cool NUI technology and I just couldn't resist getting it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Android 2.0 Includes Multi-Touch

Android 2.0 was just released and it now includes support for up to 3 simulations touches. That probably more than enough for any smart phone, but it may be a bit skimpy for larger devices. Still, its great to see the MotionEvent included with support for touch for those devices that have touch screens.

The first device to officially support Android 2.0 is Sprint's new Droid, which was just announced today and should be available November 6th. While the screen on Droid is touch enabled I don't think its multi-touch and at this point I'm not sure if any multi-touch applications for Android 2.0 are available, but I'm sure that will change soon enough.

One aspect of Droid I really like is the different docking devices. When you place the device into the Car doc it automatically changes into a turn-by-turn navigation system. When you place it in the home doc it turns into an alarm clock and multi-media center. Pretty cool. Lots of other great features like voice activated search. Check out the Endgadget article which is the source for this blog post.

WPF 4, Beta 2 expands Multi-touch API but is buggy

I was excited to see Microsoft announce that beta 2 of WPF 4, which provides a multi-touch eventing system and widgets, is now available. Sadly, as it turns out, this beta is actually a beta - its not even close to being ready for prime time.

According to a blog post by Szymon Kobalczyk there are are a lot issues related to processing touch events and traditional WPF controls. Personally, I'm not all that excited about using a buggy beta so I'll hold off until beta 3 is released.

Multi-touch Kindle App for Windows 7

According to Incremental Blogger, will be releasing the multi-touch version of their eReader, Kindle, for Windows 7, next month. While I love the eReader dedicated devices I strongly believe that the future of eReaders is in software not hardware.

What I mean is that with the introduction of Windows 7 and the tablet devices that support it, the best reading experience will probably be on a portable multi-touch tablet or slate computer - not a dedicated eReader device.

I could be wrong, but at the very least multi-touch eReader software for Windows (and eventually the Apple Slate) will probably be far more common than dedicated devices. The reason: Cost. The eReader software for Windows 7 tablets/slates and other devices will be free because content providers want you to pay for the content not the device. eReaders devices, on the other hand, cost money and generally do not work across content providers.

Below is a video demonstrating the Kindle multi-touch Windows 7 software. It seems to work fine, but I would make a couple of modifications. First the table of contents should always be available and should be finger friendly - rather than a simple hyperlinked version shown in the demo.

Second, there needs to be a thumbnail view of the book's pages which can be resized so pages can be tinny thumbnails (8 x 8 per view) or larger (perhaps 4 per view) images. The ability to scan through a book without having to read it sequentially is really important to the reading experience.

Kindle for PC Demo on Windows 7

Nokia files 3D Multi-touch Patent

The blogosphere is a buzz about the Nokia 3D touch patent. What I can't understand is how everyone can miss all the prior art in this area.

I wrote about 3D mutli-touch solution provided by Stantum back in February. The difference, however, is the implementation technology and that may be the key. Stantum solution is a resistive screen modified to track multiple contacts. The Nokia solution appears to be a projected capacitance screen modified to detect pressure.

If it is a difference of touch screen technologies, than Nokia may be able to patent is exact implementation but there is no way they can patent pressure sensitive multi-touch in general. That's been done.

Photoelastic Touch: Adds Real Touch Feedback and 3D

Here is a cool multi-touch solution that combines 3d forms with touch input. What I like about this is the real-world haptic feedback provided by the gel-like material.

It reminds me of a couple other solutions: Microsoft SecondLight, which I wrote about almost a year ago; and SLAP widgets which I wrote about back in April of this year.

The idea that touch surfaces need not be flat screens is fascinating but they success of this type of solution depends almost entirely, in my opinion, on direct manipulation. For example, the Microsoft Magic mouse (see this post) is interesting in that its multi-touch surface is organic (not flat), but I don't feel it has much of a future for a few reasons one of which is the indirect nature of the mouse device.

What needs to be done with these gel-surfaces is to be able to project visuals directly into the material without the need of a underlying projection screen. That probably won't be happening anytime soon but the potential is pretty incredible when someone figures it out.


Plastic Logic Que Available at B&N

Barnes & Noble announced on Tuesday that Plastic Logic's Que proReader will be sold through Barnes & Noble's retail stores and web site in 2010. A lot of people are excited about the potential of Plastic Logic's device because of its extremely thin profile (1/3 of an inch) and the fact that it may support touch input on the same screen as electronic paper.

I first wrote about Plastic Logic's device back in February, and to be honest not a lot of details have surfaces since then. Still, it will be interesting to see if the 8.5 x 11 inch device works to consumers expectations - which are pretty high right now.

The fact that B&N will be offering two different eReaders, the Nook (see this post), and the Plastic Logic Que is a good move in my opinion. In the absence of good eReader devices its smart to offer consumers choice while attempting to lock them into your own content.

Eventually, these eReaders will be subsumed into the slate computer form factor, and at that time B&N and can focus on content rather than devices. For now however, the focus on devices makes sense.

Here is an old video of Plastic Logic's device from back in February.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will the Real Magic Mouse Please Stand Up?

If you haven't heard already, Apple announced some new products including a "Magic Mouse" which place a multi-touch tracking surface over the top of the mouse. It's pretty cool although I'm not sure about the usability - Apple has a pretty spotty track record when it comes to mouse innovation. (As a Side note I love the new 27" iMac).

While Googling for photos of the Apple Magic Mouse I discovered another MagicMouse developed by students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. It is worn like a ring and uses ultrasonic to track the x,y, and z coordinates of the wearer's finger. The coordinates are then translated into standard mouse movements with a scroll wheel making the device usable with any USB compatible computer. It won an Innovation award from Popular Science in 2007.

I like to bring attention back to this other MagicMouse for a couple of reasons. For one I like to see inventions like this coming from small teams. It's the kind of innovation we really love in America. Second, the WPI MagicMouse is more interesting, in my opinion, from a design metaphor perspective. As you may or may not know I started a web site, Magic.IO, dedicated to exploring the Magic design metaphor for NUI applications. This ring developed by WPI students fits in nicely with that effort.

Whether or not the boys at WPI had the sense to trademark "MagicMouse" and if they will try to defend that trademark is a whole different story. Apple had to abandon its use of the "Mighty Mouse" because of trademark infringement and if your remember the controversy over the use of "iPhone" than you agree that Apple has no problem trampling other people's IP rights.

Dungons and Dragons on Microsoft Surface

When I was in 7th grade (possibly 6th) my good friend introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. His older brother was the dungeon master and our band of 12/13 something friends were the players. This was the mid 1970's so the game was still in its original box set at the time, but that just made it all the more fun. My friends and I continued to play through high school and then, sadly, we all when our separate ways and never played again - or at least I didn't. I long for those days when we would sit around in so-an-so's basement for hours laughing our butts off.

The first time I saw a Microsoft Surface, which was a year ago this past September, one of the first things I thought of was, "Wow, this would be cool for playing D&D!" Since then I thought about it a number of times - as have many others I imagine - but I've never tried to program the game on the Surface. Fortunately, somebody has, the kids at The "Surfacescapes" team at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Below is the video demonstrating the game which is just for demonstration - I suppose its only a matter of time before Hasbro decides to sue them, so see it while you can.

Back in June of this year I wrote a blog entry titled, "Using Multi-Touch Tables and Tablets Together" in which I spoke about combining large touch surfaces (i.e. touch walls and tables) with tablets for game play. I think the D&D game demonstrated by Surfacescapes would benefit from this approach and it would give those guys a chance to show off their Windows 7 programming skills as well.

The nice thing about combining peripheral tablets or slates with large multi-touch form factors is that each participant can access their own private data as well as reference materials without impacting the game flow or the other players. At any rate, if you played D&D you will probably like the video below - its still rough in my opinion, but its a great start.

Surfacescapes Demo Walkthrough from Visual Story TAs on Vimeo.

Barnes & Noble's EBook Reader

While the world prepares for Windows 7 with thousands of Windows 7 Launch Parties across the World, Gizmodo got the scoop on Barnes & Nobel's own launch party. The EBook reader, Nook.

B&N has taken a pretty cool approach to the problem of how to combine the versatility and vibrant color of the iPhone touch screen with the black and white electronic paper screen. This is a big problem for mass production. Electronic paper technologies are, for the most part, black and white which works great for reading but kind of sucks in terms of interaction. In addition, electronic paper isn't very touch enabled - not yet - so you can't do a whole lot with it in terms of interaction. At the same time the beautiful high-resolution touch screens on a devices like the iPhone are too hard on the eyes when it comes to reading.

How do you get the readability of electronic paper with the versatility of a touch screen? B&N simply put the touch screen for menus and text entry under the electronic paper screen. Duh! I love a simple solution to a difficult problem and this is one of them. It seems so obvious in hind-sight, but I'll bet most people never thought of it - I didn't.

So what does this combination give you? Pretty much everything you need for a great eReader. First, you have the versatility and programmable capabilities of a touch screen - which B&N can update and enhance as easily as Apple does its iTouch and iPhone. Second you get the low-power consumption and easy-on-they-eyes electronic paper screen for hours of reading enjoyment.

The only disadvantage of this is that the touch manipulations are indirect - you are not manipulating the content directly with your fingers. Of course, given the close proximity of the touch screen to the electronic paper screen it probably doesn't matter much. Once multi-touch color electronic paper screens are available this solution will seem pretty antiquated, but for now this is a an awesome solution to a difficult problem.

But that's only the half of it - the great design extends to the service as well. B&N, according to a story at wired, might be heavily discounting titles for their eReader. In addition, B&N may make it possible for people to share or even resell their books to others - just like you can with real books. If they can do those two things, than I think people will really sit up and take notice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Multi-Touch Design Table Concept

Although the industrial design is not realistic (this thing would topple over I'm pretty sure), this concept rendition of a multi-touch drafting table shows once again that its this form factor that's going to be really useful to people producing CAD and commercial art.

Micheal has some interesting ideas in his concept which does nothing if not add to the dialog about the drafting table form factor. I like that fact that the artist is thinking in terms of multiple positioning the same as the folks at Austria University (see blog post) whose multi-touch table was actually built and convertible.

[ via The Design Blog].

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

List of Multi-Touch Computers and Monitors

Every day, it seems, I get notified of another laptop/tablet/all-in-one/desktop/monitor that supports multi-touch. Many of these announcements, most of them really, are related to the imminent release of Windows 7.

It would be nice, I was thinking, if there was a comprehensive list of options with prices, screen sizes, form factors, and so. At first I thought I would simply make a spreadsheet but two things gave me pause:

  1. Keeping up with the announcements and, in the future, new product introductions is going to be a challenge.
  2. It would be great to be able to share the list of multi-touch computers and monitors with everyone and to allow other people to update it.

Than it struck me: Perhaps a comprehensive list already exists. No dice. At least not any list that I could find. So, in the end, I decided to create a Wikipage which lists all the machines. I'll be honest, I'm not too excited about filling out the list myself so I just seeded it with a couple of example entries. It's my hope that others will also contribute and make modifications as they seem fit in the true spirit of a wiki.

So if you are looking for a list of multi-touch computers and monitors you can now find it at Wikipedia entry "List of Multi-Touch Computers and Monitors". I'm not totally happy with the title of the article as I would prefer this be a list of commercially available machines that the average end-user would buy, not specialized devices created for events and such things. Still, its a start and if you get a minute to add an entry you'll be helping out a lot of people - including yourself!

I'll add to the list a little every day, but its my hope that others will also contribute. I encouraged people to start a NUI wikipage back in April (after previous attempts were all deleted) and that seems to have taken on a life of its own. Hopefully this page will too!

UPDATE Oct 28th, 2009

After writing this article I received an email from a reader pointing to Microsoft's own list of Windows 7 approved multi-touch devices. It's an excellent resource. I hope they keep it up to date.

Windows 7: 9 Built-in Gestures

Windows 7, which will be released along with a bevy of multi-touch computers, will include 9 built-in multi-touch gestures.

By built in I mean that there are events specifically designed for these gestures which include:

  • Tap and Double-tap
  • Panning with Inertia
  • Selection /Drag
  • Press and Tap with second finger
  • Zoom
  • Rotate
  • Two-finger Tap
  • Press and Hold
  • Flicks

There is a nice graphic showing each of the gestures with more information on the associated events (Win32) here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

10/GUI: Another Twist on the Trackpad

A designer named Robert Clayton Miller has come up with another twist on the trackpad which he calls 10/GUI.

As I wrote in my blog post "Apple and Microsoft's New Twists on the Old Trackpad Unimpressive" the idea that a large multi-touch trackpad can replace a keyboard and mouse with indirect input just doesn't add up for me.

One thing that Miller does, however, which makes it seem a bit more interesting is he allows you to see "pointers" for each finger touching the pad on the screen - these pointers do not actually invoke anything until pressure is applied. In other words, while your fingers are resting lightly on the trackpad they produce pointers on the screen, one for each finger, that move with your fingers and only click when you press down harder. This seems to address my biggest gripe about big multi-touch trackpads: That they require you to work with the touch screen blindfolded.

Whether or not this would work well I can't say. Miller's approach is better than nothing but I'm still not convinced that a big trackpad will work all that well. I prefer direct multi-touch manipulation and believe that on a large surface fingers obstructing the view would be a minor problem.

In addition, I do not dismiss the drafting board style form factor as quickly as Miller. In fact I believe that the drafting table form factor has real potential as I explained in my post "Multitouch for Commerical Art and CAD". Miller disagrees. He claims in his video (which is very good by the way) that neck pain is associated with drafting style form factors. Well, any position you assume for long periods of time will eventually cause pain - just lie down on a bed for 20 hours and see how comfortable you are.

At any rate, watch the video for yourself and make your own decisions. I found the video to be well made and informative, but I'm still skeptical of the large trackpad form factor.

As for Miller's windowing system, I really have no comment having never tried it. It doesn't seem to me all that much better than the windowing system we have today but maybe I'm missing something.

10/GUI from C. Miller on Vimeo.

Magic.IO: A new web site dedicated to Magic as a Metaphor for NUI design

If you read this blog regularly you may have noticed that I'm kind of obsessed with NUI and the use of Magic as a design metaphor for NUI devices.

I've written about the use of Magic as a design metaphor many times (see links below) and I think about it often. I often wonder, how to design human-computer and device interfaces differently if we used magic as a metaphor rather than the mechanical metaphor of WIMP (buttons, switches, dials, sliders, etc.).

Would magic as a metaphor be effective? Would it provide for a great user experience? It's my intention to explore the use of Magic as a design metaphor much more closely on a new web site I've just created called Magic.IO.

I use the IO country code because I believe that its the inputs and outputs that determine the user interface. Yes, the application logic also contributes a great deal but its the the way in which we provide information and request services (input) and the way the computer responds (output) that determine the experience.

I invite you to come and see my new web site dedicated to Magic as a metaphor in NUI design. I'm already starting on my first project, the development of a wand, which I hope to share in blog posts at Magic.IO. In the mean time feel free to give me feedback on this blog post - I would love to hear what people think of the idea even if you totally disagree!

Here is a list of past blog posts I've made on this site about the use of Magic as a design metaphor in NUI:
NOTE: I'm also working on another web site dedicated to the discussion of NUI technologies that is focused on implementation technologies, rather than design, like multi-touch, Augmented Reality, direct voice input and other technologies as outlined in a previous post, Natural User Interfaces. More on that later!

UPDATE 11-20-2009

I decided not to continue development of Magic.IO until, or only if, I can figure out how to clearly express magic as it relates to NUI. See this post for an explanation.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ripples: New Research From Microsoft on Multi-touch

Multi-touch designers and developers will find this of interest. Microsoft Research has published a design document on the user of auras in multi-touch. The document, "Ripples: Utilizing Per-Contact Visualizations To Improve User Interaction With Touch Displays" is a short 10 page PDF document with some great illustrations. From what I can tell they are not claiming strict IP on this so anyone can implement the design solutions explained in the document.

Personally, I think they did some really nice work and I hope to see this kind of thing integrated into larger multi-touch surfaces in the future. On small surfaces like the iPhone it's harder to see the value as I think it would just add clutter to the screen, but on tablet size to table and wall size it would be a great feature. Thanks for contributing, Microsoft.

Thanks to for the pointer to this paper.

Microsoft's Office of the Future

While not as inspiring as some of the higher-production quality videos from Microsoft, this demonstration of the office of the future which includes a multi-touch table and a gesture Wall system is still pretty cool and it works - at least for a demo.

This is not the first time this kind of office of the future has been shown. For example, Sun Microsystems did a something simiular (Warning: painfully long video) over a decade ago - the production is pretty dated but some of the ideas are interesting.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apple's and Microsoft's New Twists on the Old Trackpad is Unimpressive

Over the past few days there has been a lot of coverage of two "potential" products which are essentially the same thing. First came the story about a new Apple patent for a 10-finger multi-touch surface from Apple Insider. The other story was from CrunchGear about some multi-touch mice that Microsoft research is working on.

As much as I would love to get excited about these technologies, the idea that they will somehow revolutionary our interactions with traditional computers is just plain strange to me. After all, what is the 10-finger multi-touch surface from Apple and the multi-touch mice from Microsoft, but new twists on the trackpad?

Apple has taken the trackpad about as far as possible in my opinion, with one,two,three, and even four fingers swipes, taps, and pinches - anything beyond that is a waste of energy and here's why:

Touch and multi-touch have very limited application without some kind of afforance to let the user know they've properly interacted with the computer. When you use the Apple trackpad with its multi-finger swiping, it works great because you can see the swipes occur on the screen. The page scrolls up or down if you swipe your fingers up and down. The same is true for using the trackpad as a mouse pointer - but really there are limits.

In the case of the swiping you've already set your focus on an object and so the swipes are contextual - they occur to what ever has the focus. With the mouse you can see the pointer move around in conjunction with your finger. What you can't do, without using a pointer, is select an object on a screen at a random position. In fact, without the pointer the multi-touch capabilities of trackpads are kind of useless.

The bottom line is that in order to really leverage multi-touch you have to have combine the video output and touch input into one screen. If you don't, than you need a pointer. Without a pointer your effectively blindfolded.

So what happens when you use a pointer? You get a trackpad. We have trackpads already and to be honest they work just fine. Combining the trackpad into the mouse has no benefit as far as I can see as the mouse is far easier to use than a trackpad when your attention is on the screen and not the device.

Another thing to remember is that typing on a featureless (no button edges) multi-touch surface without looking is so difficult as to be untenable. Henpecking on a multi-touch surface works if you can see images of buttons. Henpecking without visual afforances is impossible.

So having a surface that is multi-touch but outside of your field of vision and without any visual afforances on the surface itself is of very limited utility. The idea that a big trackpad in the shape of a keyboard will replace the keyboard is silly.

Virtual Autopsy on Multitouch Table

Engadget broke a really cool story about a Virtual Autopsy multi-touch table developed by a research institute in Sweden. It's really one of the coolest applications for a multi-touch table that I have seen - I suspect the table itself is custom built but I'm not sure.

Given the plethora of really uninspiring brochure-ware and 3D auto-customization applications I've seen for Microsoft Surface and other multi-touch tables (don't even get me started on the plasma swirls), its wonderful to see someone develop an application of significance.

Check out the video for yourself - its pretty awesome.

The Virtual Autopsy Table from NorrköpingsVisualiseringscenter on Vimeo.