Clayton Miller has posted an intriguing concept demonstration for multi-touch interaction as applied to traditional desktop systems. Rather than turning our monitors into touch screens, he suggests adding a large trackpad capable of sensing all ten fingers. This gets around the major problems that he points out as the primary roadblocks to touch interactions at our desks: fatigue from non-ergonomic techniques and occlusion by our own hands.
Clayton’s video artfully explains the problems he is trying to solve, the rationale for his approach, and both the hardware and software that form the solution. As such, it is a much more effective presentation than those recently released by Microsoft.
I can certainly see this concept in use. The track pad on Apple’s Macbooks is moving in that direction. However, I’m of the belief that one of the greatest benefits of a touch interface is direct manipulation. Clayton’s solution is still just as indirect as the mouse—just with nine more cursors. We can learn to type and play the piano without seeing what our fingers are touching due to the static placement of the keys and the tactile feedback they give us. Clayton’s pad would offer neither of these, and I imagine it would take a lot of effort to become proficient in its use.
Finally, I have to wonder about its actual utility. He presents a good case for its usefulness in managing windows, but that’s not what I use a computer for. I don’t sit down at my Mac thinking, “I’m going to move some windows around.” I use my computer to pay bills, prepare to teach my class, specify UI designs, and write blog posts. How will 10/GUI help me do those things more efficiently? I’m not saying it can’t, but I’d like to see it applied to more important tasks. Managing desktop clutter is just a place to start.