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The Nillabyte Perspective: Technology

Is Touchscreen Really The Future Of Personal Computers?

Computers are poised for a major revamp as touch screens get closer and closer to becoming reality. Several computer makers have already presented their versions of touch screen computers, be they desktop or laptop, but so far none have gained much traction in the market. Indeed, the most successful touch device remains Apple's iPhone and although it may be a computer in some rights, it's not meant to replace your current desktop or laptop.

I have been fairly vocal regarding the shortcomings of touchscreen ideas currently available. You can find many old articles in our archives, but to save you a few clicks, I'll run down the arguments against touchscreen briefly here.

  • A screen on a desk in front of you is not right for a touchscreen. Arms cramp quickly, and the mouse is just easier for most everything.
  • Current operating systems are built to work well with mice - one precision point of interaction, and not fingers, which are much thicker. Some elements are just too small for fingers to use easily.
  • Touching the screen prevents you from seeing what's on the screen, effectively reducing the size of your display and/or the usefulness of touch.
  • Keyboards are still necessary for inputting large chunks of data. Research and term papers, large spreadsheets, etc. will still require a keyboard for input.

That may be an incomplete list, but it sums up my main concerns. Any manufacturer who wants to sell more than a few hundred computers to niche users will need to examine these flaws and deal with them. The good news is, there appears to be hope.

New Touchscreen Ideas

While I'm not sure if there are actual products in the works or if it's still just a concept, R. Clayton Miller has a great video up at 10/GUI that gives me hope. The concept addresses the issues I mentioned, and provides an interesting idea on the future of touch computing. I've seen some snazzy ideas about touchscreen before, but this one seems the most plausible and useful to me. I'm sure it would take a while to get used to all of the different gestures possible, especially when you think about combining them simultaneously with both hands, but this is a touchscreen idea I could actually use. No arms falling off from the HP Touchsmart. No neck cramps from looking down at a Microsoft Surface.

One interesting implication of the video is that the touching may be best kept separate from the screen. But there is already a company exploring this option. Apple has been putting multi-touch capable touchpads on their high-end laptops for a while now, and they seem to be simple and popular, and much less revolutionary than we might have guessed. It will be interesting to see what path Microsoft takes here. It will also be interesting to see what happens with the rumored new Apple mouse, which is supposed to have multi-touch capabilities.


  1. Leeland's Avatar
    I think touchscreen, if it ever happens, is only going to arrive bit by bit, kind of like what Apple is doing. Switching from a traditional mouse and going straight to a multi-touch, 2 hand 10 finger interface would be too drastic of a change for it to be adopted.


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