I thought I knew a thing or two about multi-touch. I know that Jeff Han's multi-touch displays and Microsoft's Surface use cameras behind the screen to detect finger contact. I know that Microsoft hasn't (publicly) been that successful in scaling a multi-touch screen into a really thin (or practical) form factor. I know that Apple bought FingerWorks several years ago. I know that Apple has a ton of IP related to multi-touch. But one thing I didn't know is that Dell was going anywhere near the technology. Now out of the blue this video drops of Dell's new Latitude XT Tablet sporting 5 finger multi-touch. With all of Apple's multi-touch IP I was sure it would be first with a multi-touch tablet, but it looks like Dell might beat them. Unless of course the long rumored ultra-portable MacBook Pro is going to be a multi-touch tablet and beats Dell to the punch. Which now seems pretty likely.
Dell typically usually uses fairly "off-the-shelf" components in their computers. That's how they keep costs down and margins high. Browsing through Dell's patents you'll quickly realize they mostly deal with streamlining the process of manufacturing PCs, and not necessarily breakthrough new hardware that reaches the end user. So I have a feeling that the multi-touch screen driving Dell's tablet isn't actually a Dell innovation, but rather a screen developed by another company (perhaps Sharp). If this is the case, we may see the same screen in a number of systems at almost the same time. The question is: Will Apple be among them?
When Apple pushes a new technology they tend to reach exclusive (or near exclusive) deals with the manufacturer. That's part of the reason iPod capacities and form factors are usually ahead of the competition. So the fact that Dell is demoing this hardware is a little confounding: it implies that Apple might not have a lock on a multi-touch screen, and may not even be pushing the technology into a notebook or tablet (yet).
Dell deserves a lot of credit for pushing this technology to consumers. I hope the XT ships with some great apps that take advantage of the multi-touch interface, like Google Earth. Also, if Dell can get any program on the computer to recognize some multi-finger gestures that would be huge. I'd love to be able to pinch scale and rotate in Photoshop and Fireworks.