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June 29, 2007

Apple's Next Multi-Touch Products

Shortly after the Apple Store opened back home, my mom and I were in the mall and we stopped in.  One of the things I showed her was the first generation iMac with LCD screen.  I adjusted the screen to be a comfortable angle for us both to look at it, and started to show her around the desktop.  While pointing to one of the icons on the Dock, my finger accidentally tapped the LCD screen which caused a little ripple around my finger as can happen with an LCD when you tap at little too hard.  My mom noticed the ripple too, an her eyes instantly lit up, "Can you just touch the screen?"  she said.  "No," I said, "not quite yet."  That simple experience was enough to convince me that touchscreens are the next big thing in modern computing; on the same order of the mouse and the graphical user interface.  On June 29th, Apple will release the iPhone, their first product with a touchscreen since the Newton.  So the question is, what will be Apple's next Multi-Touch product?

While the iPhone will be Apple's first multi-touch device product, it's use of Multi-Touch is fairly limited.  Reportedly the maximum number of fingers the iPhone can recognize is 2, and it seems like the only gesture it can recognize is the "Pinch" zoom gesture.  So there's clearly a lot more that can be done with the technology.  To me there are 4 likely candidates for next Multi-Touch products.

iPod with Multi-Touch

Steve Jobs has already hinted that an iPod running OS X is in the pipes, and it will probably also have a Multi-Touch display.  This seems very likely as an iPod with a Multi-Touch could use the same display as the iPhone, and probably much of the same internal hardware.  Also, since the iPhone is only for AT&T there will likely be a good demand for an iPhone minus the phone, i.e. a great iPod with Wi-Fi for web-browsing, Google Maps, Skype, etc. However, Apple may not want to release a Multi-Touch iPod to soon after the iPhone because it could decrease iPhone sales.  However, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see a Multi-Touch iPod for Christmas of this year, and possibly as soon as October.

Multi-Touch Cinema Display

Multi-Touch Cinema Displays, rumoured about here, would be perfect for creative professionals, particularly sound engineers and video editors.  Obviously though it will have to be able to recognize more than just 2 finger touches at a time, so Multi-Touch Cinema Displays will probably be able to support at least 20 simultaneous touches.  I'd also expect Multi-Touch Cinema Displays be able to be positioned either vertically, like current displays, or horizontally, like a drafting table or mixing board.  However, Multi-Touch Cinema Displays sizes could be prohibitively expensive which might delay the release of such a product for some time.  For instance the JazzMutant Lemur has a 12" multi-touch screen and it retails for about $2,000.

Multi-Touch iMac

I think there's a very good chance that the "off the charts" Macs hinted at by Steve Jobs will begin with a Multi-Touch iMac.  While I firmly believe that  Multi-Touch will make computers easier, faster, and more fun to use at lot of users may not be ready for the change.  So before Apple makes a Multi-Touch iMac, it will have to be extremely confident that people enjoy using the new interface.  For that reason a Multi-Touch iMac may be a risky next product.  And again, a multi-touch display on an iMac could be prohibitively expensive.  Also, like a Multi-Touch Cinema Display, I'd expect a Multi-Touch iMac be able to be positioned either vertically or horizontally.

Multi-Touch Ultra-Portable Tablet

Many consumers have been longing for a ultra portable Mac, and a Multi-Touch tablet in the 2-3 lbs range with about 12" a screen and no physical keyboard could be just right.  I'd personally love to see such a tablet from Apple that offers a dockable keyboard, and a dock that connects to a Cinema Display and full size keyboard.  If Apple did create such a product it would probably be the first in a whole new direction for their portables.  Such a product also seems like an appropriate way to integrate Multi-Touch into their portables.


Why multitouch won't be the next big thing.

You've already mentioned price, so I'll leave that as is, although I actually don't think it is prohibitively expensive to add touchscreen capabilities. As previously mentioned, HP has a touch screen pc, and the touch layer is separate from the actual display layer, which I believe is still the part which costs the most.

Having said that, I think the "off the charts" macs are simply the coming redesign of the imac, sans any multitouch features. Firstly, there has been no suggestion of touch features in Leopard, but even so I just don't think multitouch is coming to the imac or apple display anytime soon.

My reasoning is a combination of usability and ergonomics. Firstly, I just resized two windows, read through several web pages, and browsed my music collection. Total distance my arm traveled: about 5 inches. Multitouch makes sense on a small scale, but on a larger scale it becomes work. For the average user, multitouch on the pc right now would just be a gimmick. Kitchen pc's where peripherals take up too much space, and specialized applications such as reconfigurable sound mixers make sense. But at least for the next few years these devices will be the exception and will remain outside of apple's main product lines (with the exception of hand held devices). When it finally does emerge as a product I expect it will look something like a wacom tablet, with the display acting as a reconfigurable mixing board for audio and video applications.

Truth be told I'd much rather see the promise of well implemented voice commands and truly think that they would be much more useful and easier to program for.

I said the exact same thing when I first saw the Jeff Han demonstration video. Apple is going to revolutionize the PC world, again, with a multi-touch interface.

I have an old HP TC1100 tablet that has sounds like similar hardware. I love the size and form-factor. The wafer thin keyboard folds against the back of the screen, but since it is USB it also detaches. If only it ran OSX and the wacom pad was touch sensitive (pen-required).


Wow, that's so weird. I was just researching the HP TC1100 Tablet yesterday! It's definitely one of the most innovative tablet designs that ever made it to market.

Let me ask you this though, do you always leave the keyboard attached or do you detach it when you want to travel light or think you won't need it? I really like the idea of a detachable keyboard but I could also understand how it could be irritating.

I have been looking at the recent Apple patents. It seems to me that Apple is most certainly gearing up for a Multi-Touch blow away product. I see NetBoot items, a new type of rotating Dock for a flat panel display and other items at the patent office web site which lead me to believe something is coming.

How about a 10" - 12" screen, attached to a base station with Wireless-N and a consumer version of NetBoot... would make a pretty cool new iMac sitting on the desk... but, you could detach the screen, go anywhere in your home and stay 'logged in' or you could take it with you on the road and just use services similar to how the iPhone performs. Go ahead... fold a piece of regular copy paper in half and see if a pad that size ( a little bit larger actually) wouldn't just be perfect.

Apple has a history of pushing the envelope in terms of getting new technology to the masses such as the floppy drive, USB ports and LCD's all of which were considered pretty pricey add-ons once upon a time, so I am not too concerned about the price issue in regards to a Multi-Touch display. It will be affordable for the masses... after the initial roll outs.

NetBoot allows multiple user log-ins so each member of the family will need and extra 'iPad' to sync with the home computer and they could all be using one at the same time. Heck, most of the things you do on your computer at home are internet based and an iPad would not even need to talk to the base for much beyond authentication. If you wanted to run a full blown App off of the server you could because the processing power is still at the server, not the iPad. Handwriting recognition is built in too... if you are so inclined to use it.

And what about the business world? The new features of Leopard would let me get to my home or office files easily through screen sharing or the .Mac technologies. Everyone in the business world would want one.

I would love to get the un-tethered from the keyboard and mouse/trackpad so I can go sit on the sofa or lie in bed and read, study, chat or play which is something that is not that easy with a lap top.

A product like this would be truly revolutionary.

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