Monday, 30 March 2009

The importance of touch....

Just by coincidence, one of the companies I met last week was fired up by the use of touch screens using an “iPhone”-like user interface, and over the next week I hope to be looking at a product developed using such technology alongside very large screens in some highly innovative application areas. Then, at a dinner, I raised the topic of such a “Touch” PC being installed in kitchens, primarily for use with cooking and recipes – and was surprised by the remarkable interest it received from the cooks around the table.

Windows Touch will be included in the next version of Microsoft Windows 7, and includes a very usable touch interface (see this
BBC article for a short demonstration). This touch interface is very similar to the user interface built into the iPhone and is apparently being incorporated into Apple Snow Leopard OS Update. (Indeed Windows 7 has been described as slick to the (Apple?) core.......)

Microsoft had a false start with this technology a couple of years ago with its
Microsoft Surface (TM) technology, based on tabletop computing. This technology was superb to use on a high-resolution, large screen laid flat as a tabletop – but for some reason the product doesn’t appear to have caught on and seems to be limited to the giving of very exciting demos. However, Microsoft Surface has now been rolled out to countries outside the USA, and appears to have gained some take-up in non-hostile user environments – although I’ve yet to see the technology in live operation myself, although perhaps it’s still early days in the UK (as its official launch in the UK was only last week).

Personally, I believe that on the back of Windows 7, touch technology will really start to take off. No, it’s unlikely to be adopted for “power” or professional” users who use a PC for hours on end each day – but for the adhoc user (e.g. the “kitchen” PC) it could become the ‘norm’ for good user interface experiences. If you are not yet looking at such an interface, then I would encourage all product managers to investigate and start planning now for the use of the touch facilities of Windows 7.

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