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The Power of Touch

November 15, 2011 - 0 Comments

We started our technology interface with typing command prompts on a black screen. Then the graphical user interface was born and we were introduced to the mouse which allows us to control a mechanism to point and click. Then the iPhone and iPad were born and the power of touch became very obvious because they basically enabled everyone including small children to easily interact with the product and engage with content. This revolutionary concept of touch to experience begs the questions, what would our world be like if everything we interacted with was a touch enabled device?

Researchers at the University of Munich and the Hasso Plattner Institute think they have a solution that enables anything to be touch driven, while not quite ready for prime time they predict it will be possible in the very near future. Using time domain reflectometry (TDR) they have been able to tell when and where your fingertip touches (or gets close to) a wire. TDR has been used to find faults in underwater cabling for years. The way it works is by sending electrical pulses through a wire and measuring the time it takes for the pulses to return. So your finger reflects the pulse, and by using an oscilloscope and a computer to view and analyze the resulting waveform, researchers can pinpoint where the touch occurs. The below video shows some examples of how this technology could change the way music is recorded, how controlling a device could be improved, and more. Better still it demonstrated the power to make anything a touch device by simply baking the wires need to detect touch into masking tape 

Microsoft is also keenly focused on making touch the way we interact every day and Windows 8 has been built from the ground up as a touch first operating system. The Microsoft development team identified the following parameters for a good touch experience:

  • Panning and touch response are precise and smooth (we call this “stick to your finger” panning).
  • Touch visualization is direct and immediate. Targeting UI with your fingers is seamless and confident.
  • Typing on the screen is quick, efficient and responsive.
  • Touch application experiences are consistent. Touching these applications will work the same regardless of the device they are run on.
  • To this affect Microsoft 8 leverages the Metro user interface, patterned after the Windows Phone interface, which is tile-based and the biggest user interface change ever seen in Windows. At start up of the operating system groups of tiles are presented and touching a tile starts the associated application. Windows 8 is also built to provide multi-touch support. This is exciting because it enables the Windows 8 Metro UI to run well on laptops and desktops as well as tablets and slates. Check out the preview below of Windows 8 in action.

    So we could get a lot more touchy-feely in the near future!

    Of course our interaction with technology is not confined to touch alone. Gesture driven devices, 3D holographic manipulation, handheld projectors and brain computer interfaces are all presenting some very interesting approaches to our direct interactions with technology as well as to how we might interact with one another in the future. I’ll dive into some of these in more detail in a future blog post.

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