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Coming to a Screen Near You: Multi‑touch

Summary:
Smartphone and tablet experiences are a major force influencing product development, irrespective of industry, according to an internal survey we recently conducted with our clients. Business users want to access their software applications from a myriad of devices, all behaving correctly regardless of form factor.

Smartphone and tablet experiences are a major force influencing product development, irrespective of industry, according to an internal survey we recently conducted with our clients. Business users want to access their software applications from a myriad of devices, all behaving correctly regardless of form factor.

However, smartphones and tablets fall short in some situations, product managers acknowledged in our survey. For example, would you want a radiologist reading your MRI results on her phone? How about an investment advisor aligning a portfolio against Bayesian projected outcomes constrained to 480 pixels? Likely not. Fortunately, these situations do not preclude users who work in more complex domains from expecting innovation.

The most cutting-edge companies are diving into solutions employing high-resolution multi-touch (Figure 1). This goes beyond smartphones and tablets. Multi-touch experiences are delivered via large, high-resolution touch screens, where users navigate with one or two hands by applying multiple touch points simultaneously (gesture chords). Multi-touch interaction provides a more natural way for users to engage that is highly efficient and more intuitive than traditional input methods such as a mouse or keyboard. If a radiologist wants to rotate a 3D MRI, she simply touches her fingers to the screen in a natural position and rotates. No need to figure out (or remember) how to hold down a series of keyboard commands and scroll a mouse-wheel at the same time.

Figure 1: Multi–touch prototype by Expero shows a biochemist studying how a protein molecule (on the left) might react when combined with other structures.

In addition to being beneficial for end-users, multi-touch brings many perks to businesses that employ it:

  • Exploration of data . User experiences driven by multi-touch provide significant efficiency gains, leading to more comprehensive examination of large data sets. Delving into petabytes of data to find the most interesting 0.01% of a problem set is challenging enough. Inefficient keyboard and mouse-driven navigation is a rate limiting factor for thorough data exploration and brings many missed opportunities.
  • Veracity of data. Having the ability to examine more data provides greater possibility of detecting anomalies. Manipulating or modifying questionable data, particularly highly visual data, can be a challenge with traditional input mechanisms.
  • Repetitive stress disorder. In many professions, traditional input devices can lead to serious health consequences such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Using alternative interactions with both hands in a natural manner allows users to improve productivity while relieving stress points.
  • Lower training costs. Multi-touch relies on natural interactions in line with users’ instincts, making the interactions easier to learn and use. Which is more intuitive for rotating an X-ray image: command-shift-3 plus a scroll of the mouse-wheel, or touching a finger directly to the image to manipulate it?

What once seemed to be futuristic science fiction is now upon us. Large-screen touch displays that used to cost upward of $35,000 can now be purchased for a tenth the price. A new wave of user experience is coming, and we at Expero are excited to be part of it. The economics are quickly tilting favorably for more and more enterprises to join in. Multi-touch is coming soon to a screen near you.

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