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The magic of touch

magic touch ipad

While the iPad is not the first large screen touch device to hit the market, it has brought the technology into mainstream focus.  So does touch on a large device beat out a mouse and keyboard or is it just a passing fad?

I’ve spent time recently using a touchscreen equipped Dell E6400 ATG running Windows 7.  I was initially unsure of how much use I would really get out of touch on Windows 7, especially since the ATG’s screen is resistive rather than capacitive.  This means it lacks multi-touch support but does allow on-screen typing, clicking and scroll bar pulling.

The ATG has a useful 14 inch screen, so I setup Windows to enlarge all of the key touchable elements such as the taskbar, general text and scroll bars.  The scroll bars are now the width of a finger and the primary interface elements have effectively been supersized.

As I started reaching out to launch programs, navigate the web and perform general Windows operations, the experience became completely natural.  The ATG was resting on lap like a regular laptop and I was simply driving the computer with my fingers instead of using a mouse.

I expected my arms to tire after a while, but they stayed in good shape because they were able to rest on the ATG’s keyboard surface when I was reading a page.

The Windows 7 virtual keyboard can be expanded to produce very large keys so casual typing also becomes easy.  The physical keyboard and trackpad always remained available in case I wanted to do something more serious like writing this article.  In fact this article is a case in point.  I’m writing it using the physical keyboard and whacking the screen when I want to navigate to different points within the article to do some editing.

What I’m describing here is not a device in competition with the iPad, but rather an example of how touch works well in different ways on different platforms.

My Windows 7 experience has tangibly improved since the arrival of the ATG and its touchscreen.  I’ve recently caught myself reaching out with my hand to the screen of my other computers on several occasions now and it’s because interacting with the screen using touch just seems so natural.  On the ATG’s Windows 7 platform, it still makes sense to use the physical keyboard and trackpad in certain scenarios.  That’s because Windows 7 works best when you have both input methods available.

The iPad on the other hand is completely touch optimized, which is not necessarily a better or worse model but an example of how using only touch can work well for certain use cases.

What it comes down to is that touch is all about the software implementation.  The software implementation on the iPad is superb.  The ability to setup Windows 7 to be touch friendly makes the experience on the ATG faster than using a trackpad in most scenarios.  It would be even further enhanced by the addition of a capacitive touchscreen, but the ATG ships with a resistive one as its more resilient technology sits better with the laptop’s all-terrain ethos.

It seems pretty clear that touch is set to become an ever-increasing part of everyday computing.  Following my experiences with the iPad and Dell ATG, I welcome that with outstretched arms.

Neil Berman

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Apr 7, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Software | , , , , , , , , , ,

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