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Do we want to look below the surface this time?
May 30, 2007 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Surface. A multi-user touch table. How curious that this happens some time after Apple revealed their own multitouch interface. More info here, here and here.
posted by Memo (64 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
How curious that this happens some time after Apple revealed their own multitouch interface.

Sounds more like this.

Also M$ bashing is DULL. Get back to Slashdot.
posted by Artw at 12:36 AM on May 30, 2007


There's also this. Obviously not an original idea. The apple example was for trolling.
posted by Memo at 12:40 AM on May 30, 2007


By 'original' I meant 'new'.
posted by Memo at 12:40 AM on May 30, 2007


"The apple example was for trolling." ???
posted by ericost at 12:42 AM on May 30, 2007


Although it would make a great joke, Microsoft isn't responding to Apple's mobile phone with a coffeetable. They're trying to respond to Jeff Han and Perceptive Pixel. Han withheld some of the less-technical information from his academic papers, which is making hobbyist knock-offs difficult. So if Microsoft has a working table and a UI, they're in great shape.

But don't expect a display table from Microsoft anytime soon. This is probably a prototype. They're building units for corporate customers and unveilling the deals to buy themselves time. When Perceptive Pixel and other companies come out with retail versions, customers will hesitate, since Microsoft versions are seen to be possible in the near future.

(on preview: that touchtable software looks really choppy.)
posted by honest knave at 12:48 AM on May 30, 2007


My MetaFilter post on Han's recent work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:51 AM on May 30, 2007


I worked for Applied Minds while we were designing the touch table Memo linked to. Some of my work went into its demo applications.
posted by zippy at 12:52 AM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


When Perceptive Pixel and other companies come out with retail versions, customers will hesitate, since Microsoft versions are seen to be possible in the near future.

Isn't Microsoft's vaporware great?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:52 AM on May 30, 2007


Here's a link dump on Frustrated total internal reflection Multitouch Displays:

a Hobbyist Forum and some Websites
http://tinker.it/now/2007/02/28/multitouch-table-experiment/
http://www.multitouch.nl/?m=200702
http://lowres.ch/ftir/
http://www.whitenoiseaudio.com/blog/
http://www.youtube.com/group/multitouch
http://www.flickr.com/groups/multitouch/
http://www.frappr.com/nuigroup
(via the #ftir irc channel on FreeNode.net)

This is a cut-and-paste from:
http://www.metafilter.com/60828/GUIs-in-Spaaaaace#1677214
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:55 AM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I want my Avalon Hill wargames ported to a computer with a multi-touch table attached.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 AM on May 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


I worked on some of this. Thanks for posting the PI link -- I hadn't seen that yet.

It was really fun to work on, but the transition to handling events from a mouse and keyboard to those from n fingers + n tagged objects is pretty great.
posted by endquote at 1:08 AM on May 30, 2007


Microsoft have been working on this for years. I'm sure I saw a demonstration of it on the web some 2 years or more ago.
posted by seanyboy at 1:12 AM on May 30, 2007


@Seanyboy - Everybody has been working on this for years. The Han stuff is cute, but in terms of UI design it doesn't do anything that hadn't been done at least 10 years earlier - see Bill Buxton et al.

All of the grabbing, rotating, stretching gestures and the basics of everything in those demos was in papers years and years ago, and I personally used a multi-touch Wacom tablet interface in the mid nineties. In fact I have a feeling that Maya, for instance, has always supported more than one pointing device (since Bill did a lot of the UI design for Alias) - I certainly used a back-projected "table" version once that was intended as a high end design system.

That said, the hardware ( FTIR touch screen technology ) that Han developed is very great and will make a big difference. It will take a huge and painful push to topple the desperately stifling hegemony of the mouse, and in the past I've despaired of it ever happening, but the Wii remote and FTIR touch screens are giving me hope.
posted by silence at 1:40 AM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, all retarded software politics aside, it seems that Microsoft is the first out of the gate with this stuff. the iPhone never appeared to use the touch interface for anything other than the obvious, and although I saw Han's demo video like everyone else on the internet, I didn't see something that a million people or businesses would buy - I saw a big Wacom tablet. Even if it is a pre-emptive move against Perceptive Pixel, it's a good move and I look forward to messing around with one of these things in a year or two's time.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:41 AM on May 30, 2007


This is the sort of thing that Horoshi Ishi , Bill Buxton and others have been researching and publishing about for at least 15 years. It is good to see Apple and other pick this up again but hardly new from a UI point of view.

Of course those of us you are knocking on a bit were playing with these in 1981.
posted by rongorongo at 1:50 AM on May 30, 2007


BlackLeotardFront, I saw a big Wacom tablet, but in a "Damn, I wanna use this for Photoshop work" kind of way. Drawing right on the screen... oh, that would so rule.
posted by azpenguin at 1:51 AM on May 30, 2007


I love these type of threads. Not only do we get to see demonstrations of cool technology, we get to see demonstrations of two basic human quirks:
  1. The desire to pick teams and cheer them on (Yay Apple! Boo Microsoft!),
  2. and the desire to prove that one is "in the know" compared to others (hah, I saw this years ago you clueless proles)!
And let's not forget 3. The desire to cynically comment on other people's quirks and foibles.
posted by moonbiter at 1:52 AM on May 30, 2007 [6 favorites]


I recurse you, moonbiter!
posted by imperium at 2:21 AM on May 30, 2007


It's pretty clear microsoft has been researching this tech for a long time. If you want to bash them, bash them for letting a cool tech languish until other companies demonstrated it was desirable.
posted by lastobelus at 2:24 AM on May 30, 2007


I was underwhelmed (I always think of it NOT WORKING WELL because it's an M$ thing), but my kids were well impressed.

I hope it's not running on the new Vista kernel.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:04 AM on May 30, 2007


I saw a big Wacom tablet, but in a "Damn, I wanna use this for Photoshop work" kind of way. Drawing right on the screen... oh, that would so rule.

tablet-PCs with wacom screens have been around for years. They're great for photoshop. The screens aren't as huge, but that's because they're laptops, so you can photoshop at the beach :)

(this comment is an example of the moonbiter type #2 quirk, and was written on a convertable tablet-PC nearly 4 years old, via a wacom screen, while photoshop runs in the background :-p )
posted by -harlequin- at 3:15 AM on May 30, 2007


Aw, man! I just realized I've violated the Prime Directive and let the natives know that we're studying them!
posted by moonbiter at 3:18 AM on May 30, 2007


It will take a huge and painful push to topple the desperately stifling hegemony of the mouse.

Yes, and part of that pain will be in your shoulder from holding your hand in a terrible position all day.
posted by mkb at 3:21 AM on May 30, 2007


I remember Bill Gates demoing this stuff at a pre-E3 event 2 or 3 years ago. The phones on the table bit and all.
posted by acetonic at 3:28 AM on May 30, 2007


Um, can I just say...
Neato!
...because it is, you guys. C'mon. Sheesh.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:44 AM on May 30, 2007


Thanks for the info, especially the buxton stuff. I had no idea MS had been working on this stuff for so long. Cool!
posted by honest knave at 3:46 AM on May 30, 2007


I deal in the written (typed) word. To help me, it would have to transcribe my dictation or handwriting and then let me push the transcribed words around on the table with my fingers. That's not that difficult to imagine, but I wonder whether it would be so much better for me than it is to use a keyboard and to push the words around with a mouse. (Not to mention how annoying it would be to have people everywhere talking to their words processors and spreadsheets and dragging their greasy fingers around the screens.)

I foresee many people happily playing board games on this thing, while I continue to await the arrival of teledildonics.
posted by pracowity at 4:12 AM on May 30, 2007


I hope the purchase price includes a free consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon because hunching over a coffee table for any significant period of time is going to require one.
posted by PenDevil at 4:15 AM on May 30, 2007


..buffering...
posted by empath at 4:26 AM on May 30, 2007


There's also this. Obviously not an original idea.

And this.
posted by cillit bang at 4:27 AM on May 30, 2007


This is one of those things that looks neat in an ooh-happy-"consumers"-moving-photos-around way, but would surely be useless for day-to-day work. No keyboard? Am I supposed to rely on handwriting recognition and dodgy screen keyboards? What about shortcuts? Oops.
posted by reklaw at 4:35 AM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Also, it seems unlikely that phone shops are going to let you take their phones and put them on a table to look at specs, especially given that the phones are always tied down to prevent theft, and that it'd be a completely stupid use of money when cardboard signs can do the job for about 1/1000th of the price. Same goes for tables that let you order drinks - menus and waiters just do the job way cheaper. Maybe if these tables ever went under a few hundred dollars they'd be useful to someone, but until then...
posted by reklaw at 4:40 AM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I thought this was interesting:

It's not a touch-sensitive screen. Instead, it relies on multiple cameras beneath the table that can see when someone touches it. It recognizes objects based on shape or by using domino-style identification labels on the bottom of the objects.

A projection system and optical technology sit beneath the hard acrylic tabletop screen, which itself doesn't contain electronics. Microsoft says it should be durable enough to serve as a restaurant table, spills and all.


That's a bit different from a glorified Wacom, isn't it? Making durable electronics instead of fragile tablets strikes me as a praise-worthy 'innovation'.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:42 AM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe if these tables ever went under a few hundred dollars they'd be useful to someone, but until then...

Yeah, I think the current price-point is pretty absurd; it's going to be used in cash-rich resorts and to draw attention to flagship stores. This the equivalent of buying a Mini and painting it with your logo; a publicity stunt for all involved. But POS machines once seemed an absurd expenditure compared to a waiter's notepad, and now they're ubiquitous.

Don't give up on the future... it just might surprise you.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:47 AM on May 30, 2007


How curious that this happens some time after Apple revealed their own multitouch interface

Do you really think this took them four months or whatever to develop?

So some guy (Jeff Han) has been writing papers, doing research, and trying to get people interested in this idea for years, apple comes out with a product, and then Microsoft does, and Microsoft is stealing from Apple? Great way to disparage the individual innovator in order to suck Apple's dick. Mac fanatics do the same thing about Douglas Engelbart's
ideas too.
posted by delmoi at 4:55 AM on May 30, 2007


The failure of the tablet PC for all but a few specialized applications and dedicated fans indicates to me that we're currently far too dependent on the mouse and keyboard in conventional computer uses. I don't think it's because users could only touch the screen in one place at a time.

If multitouch gets cheap and common, I'm all for it. But my money's on it only gaining purchase where you can't easily put a keyboard and pointer mechanism in the first place, such as on a mobile phone or kiosk.
posted by ardgedee at 5:09 AM on May 30, 2007


All I want to know is whether it'll support Gauntlet
posted by Flashman at 5:11 AM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


For those of us in the IT field, "Sir, could you remove your drink from your screen?" is the "Coffee Holder CD drive" of tomorrow.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:15 AM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, something actually makes it out of MSR into product. This is a landmark day for them. </snark>

Seriously though, I was surprised that they're trying to commercialize this now. Mitsubishi's research labs have been trying to sell their DiamondTouch for years with little success. Granted, some of this is due to poor marketing, and some of it is due to technical limitations of the DT vis-a-vis MS Surface's apparent features. However, I'd think that large displays would need to drop at least an order of magnitude in price before this could achieve the volume necessary to become cost-effective.

Then again, I suspect that this is more about MS trying to recapture some of the cool factor from Apple than actually trying to make money. People who drool over Surface might feel a bit less dorky using Vista or some hypothetical 6th-generation non-shitty Zune.
posted by xthlc at 5:47 AM on May 30, 2007


To help me, it would have to transcribe my dictation or handwriting and then let me push the transcribed words around on the table with my fingers.

I think this is designed more for a new cultural age where humans communicate exclusively via LOLCATS images.
posted by brain_drain at 6:36 AM on May 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't get it when people bash MS without even reading the website information about the new product.

It looks pretty cool to me, and it has very little in common with the iPhone - completely different form factors, uses, target markets, and functions.

MS is promising it by the end of the year, so it isn't vaporware. The cost is $5-10K and the target market is at the enterprise level. We'll start seeing these in hotels, bars, etc. in a year or so. The consumer level product is several years after that.
posted by Muddler at 6:43 AM on May 30, 2007


Reminds me of those video gambling games you find embedded in bars and tabletops in Nevada. And Etch-a-Sketch, don't forget Etch-a-Sketch!
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:05 AM on May 30, 2007


Wasn't it Archer Maclean's Dropzone that used a horizontal screen? I'd love to see an updated version of the game running on something like this! :)
posted by Chunder at 7:41 AM on May 30, 2007


How curious that this happens some time after Apple revealed their own multitouch interface.</em

Yeah, after all... all M$ did was make it bigger and not reliant on AT&T/Cingular's wireless network.

M$ bashing is indeed dull.

posted by thrakintosh at 7:44 AM on May 30, 2007


For those of us in the IT field, "Sir, could you remove your drink from your screen?" is the "Coffee Holder CD drive" of tomorrow.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:15 AM on May 30


People always regard those stories as apocryphal, but I had it happen to me, not a friend of a friend. In about 1999 I spoke directly to a user who broke her "cup holder" on her computer.

It was like seeing a unicorn in real life.

Also, there is "no way" the unit in those demos was only $5k-$10k. There are some Alienware desktops that cost that much. This will be frightfully expensive and have no uptake outside of Las Vegas and SoHo. If it can hang on till manufacturing catches up, it could be interesting.

I'll put it this way... for $5k, there would be at least as many people who would buy it as bought the Zune. Hell I'd buy one today for $5k. But I expect the first generation will be more like $25k.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:06 AM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Does anyone really want touchscreen technology?

Think about it. When you go to a kiosk, do you prefer to use a keyboard or a touchscreen? Is it because the touchscreen technology isn't good enough? Or is it because touchscreen sucks. I'd prefer the technology away from me, as I control it with a low-energy device remotely.

I'm just not sure about the "advantages" of touchscreen over other input technologies, but I'm curious. I haven't read much explanation of why this technology is good/interesting, (aside from the difficulties of implementing it).
posted by mrgrimm at 8:16 AM on May 30, 2007


But I expect the first generation will be more like $25k.

I'll take that bet.

1 piece of glass, 1 projector of medium quality, 1 video camera of matching quality, 1 medium-capable PC.

This is the same setup that the Reactable uses, which has been built several times for under $1000.
posted by Revvy at 8:18 AM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Since it's from Microsoft, I'm guessing it'll be a short trip from haptic to hapless.
posted by mazola at 8:33 AM on May 30, 2007


from the Power commercial, "now everyone can be a DJ".
Great. Microsoft has sewn the fall of humanity, in the most tedious way imaginable.
posted by wumpus at 8:46 AM on May 30, 2007


If MS is using a camera/etc. set up, then it seems this device is locked into a tabletop format, yes? That seems extremely limiting to me. I'd be interested in a touchscreen interface if it were up in front of me like my monitor is now (yes, like in Minority Report). I'd especially like it if it was a big wall display, so I could walk around some while I work--the hardest thing for me about the traditional mouse/keyboard interface is that it locks you into a desk/chair set up, and I like to move around some while I'm thinking. A big, soft display that I could hang on my wall, with full touch interface....that would be awesome.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:02 AM on May 30, 2007


fwiw - the "origins" section notes that they started work on this in 2001. They're claiming it will be available late this year (not just a prototype).
posted by nihlton at 9:25 AM on May 30, 2007


While there is the initial "Wow, cool!" reaction, the more I think about it, I sincerely doubt there are significant productivity gains to this kind of ui. While it's nice to think that we could spend our days whizzing through data, shaping and manipulating images and spreadsheets like some kind of information maestro, the reality is that the majority of what we use computers for are series of sequential actions which only require one point of interface, something that is very unlikely to change because that's how we think. I didn't see much in any of the tech demos that a user proficient in the corresponding program isn't already doing just as quickly via keyboard shortcuts.

It's a great technology for areas where aesthetic is king, as the lack of peripherals is quite elegant. Microsoft seems to have picked very appropriate partners for its pilot programs (hotels, casinos, retail outlets and "entertainment venues"). I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes commonplace wherever a 10k system will do 90% of the job of a ~20k/year employee in addition to adding a bit of flash to the establishment.
posted by uri at 9:52 AM on May 30, 2007


So, what happens when I spill my coffee on this table?

When a kid draws on it with a crayon?

When a drunken idiot sits on it?

Still, I can't wait to see one of these in person.
posted by JDHarper at 10:11 AM on May 30, 2007


One other thing,

Is it just me or is a single 1 GHz processor kind of pathetic for a system that costs 5-10k? Given the frame rate issues that seemed to crop up, one would think Microsoft could pony up for something that would smoothly run its own programs.
posted by uri at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2007


What I'm most interested in is how hard it is to program against. I can think of tons of uses for this sort of hardware, but if it's a nightmare to code against, apps will be few and far between.

I'm also curious on how it recognizes devices placed on it. Are the devices designed to send a greeting, or does it really recognize the devices on it's own and initiate the connections?
posted by Crash at 10:39 AM on May 30, 2007


So if Apple "patented the fuck out of" multitouch, and Microsoft's been "working on this for 5 years" (don't they always say that?) and Jeff Han demo'd this for real a couple of years ago... who really owns this technology? Or are they trying to keep investors guessing?
posted by fungible at 11:06 AM on May 30, 2007


nonlinear video/audio editing and photoshop + this system = SEX
posted by stenseng at 11:46 AM on May 30, 2007


"I think this is designed more for a new cultural age where humans communicate exclusively via LOLCATS images."

DARMOK N JHELAD R UP IN UR TANAGRAZ!!!
posted by zoogleplex at 11:55 AM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


JDHarper: Does an object have to be physically impervious to damage to seem enticing to you? Do you own a television? A computer? Or is your home full of nothing but milk crates, 2x4's, and cinder blocks?
posted by tehloki at 5:58 PM on May 30, 2007


As cool as I think all of this touch screen technology is, and as much as it pains me to admit it, this sort of reminds me of the touch-screen coloring book apps from Disney World's "Journey into the Imagination" attraction.

I'll admit, however, that Figment the Dragon wouldn't have hooked me up with another gin & tonic.
posted by mediocrates at 6:49 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


moonbiter.... why is your name so great?!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:36 PM on May 30, 2007


> So if Apple "patented the fuck out of" multitouch, and Microsoft's been "working on this for 5 years" (don't they always say that?) and Jeff Han demo'd this for real a couple of years ago... who really owns this technology?

I haven't been following multitouch specifically, but how this usually plays out: Company A patents a multitouch interface that can only be controlled by the fingertips on one hand. Company B then patents an interface that can use the tips and back of the thumb knuckle. Company A then comes up with a patent that allows the fingertips on one hand and tip of the other thumb. Company C comes in with something that allows toes. Company B ripostes with full elbow compatibility. A backs themselves up with applications to protect the use of electrostatic conductiveness in interfaces. B registers something involving optical motion detection.

Company D patents the idea of using any part of the body in direct contact with the display, but doesn't bother to call anybody's attention to it. D lets A, B and C bring their products to market, and sues whomever wins for the big win.

> Or are they trying to keep investors guessing?

No clue, but don't rule it out.
posted by ardgedee at 9:37 AM on May 31, 2007


If you combine this product with the XBox Live network, which is now providing boardgames like Settlers of Catan , this could be a really cool idea.

For less than $1k, of course.
posted by feersum endjinn at 11:45 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]




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