The touchscreen workstation is becoming closer to reality

Fort Collins, Colo.— I am admittedly, a skeptic when it comes to touch computing. On a phone Iget it, although when it comes to typing I’ll stick with my hard-qwertykeyboard, thank-you very much. But on a desktop display? Sure, it’s cool forfive minutes, but I fail to see how it will improve my productivity in anymeaningful way. It’s a solution looking for a problem, it seems to me.

Jeff Han is hoping to change that.The president and chief scientist of Perspective Pixel was on hand for a tourof Hewlett-Packard’s workstation headquarters by the international media lastweek. His company is trying to take touch mainstream with new displays and formfactors that unlock the power of touch. If you watched CNN’s 2008 electioncoverage, with John King’s dizzying maps, you’ve seen his company’s technologyat work.

Like me though, I sensed Han isn’tpleased with how touch has been implemented to-date by most vendors,particularly in the PC space. And Han also had an interesting observation,although it’s obvious when you think about it: it’s not the hardware that makesa successful touchscreen use-case. It’s the software.

Vendors have been quick to jump onthe touch bandwagon, said Han, but by cutting corners or trying to port-overapplications and operating systems designed for a mouse & keyboard world(hello, Microsoft Windows 7) the result is a clunky touch experience thatdoesn’t unlock the potential of the interface. Between clunky bandwagonsolutions rushed to market and growing confusion over touch terminology sown byvendors trying to ride the hype-wave (multi-touch, two-touch and so-on) Hanfears users could be turned off of touch, closing their minds to the value oftouch done right.

“The misstep of Windows 7 was tojust provide a touch sensor. Everyone assumed if you build the components themarket will come with the applications, but they haven’t. And it’s difficult towrite this software,” said Han. “The problem now is also that touch can mean alot of things. It’s a big fad and that’s dangerous, because you don’t want tolose users to a bad experience. A bad user experience will kill the market foreveryone.”

Perspective Pixel’s strategy is tofocus on getting the software right with a user experience built for touch fromthe ground-up. It has also decided to focus on the commercial market first,believing the use-case is more compelling for business and, with success there,the consumer play will follow.

Designed to run in a nativeenvironment on top of Windows, Linux or Mac OS, Perspective Pixel seescollaboration as an advantage of touch and has designed its solutions to allowmultiple users to use the input concurrently, even across multiple screens.

They’re already finding success onthe government, defence and broadcast verticals, with medical imaging andeducation as emerging opportunities as well.

While the value of touch around collaborationand large displays is apparent, I asked Han what about for the averageworkstation user at their desktop today, doing modelling in the oil and gassector, or editing video for a movie studio, will there be a touchscreenworkstation for them?

It’s unclear how quickly theincumbent software vendors in the space such as Adobe and AutoCAD will embracetouch, and certainly something more than just porting their existing softwareinto a touch model will be necessary to provide a compelling user experience,and a more efficient one.

The touch workstation may becloser to reality than we think, though. While he can’t go into detailspublicly, Han indicated that Perspective Pixel is working on developing touchsoftware for clients in several traditional workstation verticals, and thereare use-cases where touch shows the potential to drive compelling value.

A future with more touch soundsmore friendly. Just remind me to stock up on Purell…

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