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Practicality of Multi-Touch and an Early PowerBook Multi-Touch Keyboard Design

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Here at MacRumors, we have had a fascination about the possibility of Apple introducing more advanced Multi-Touch technology into their future Macs and keyboards. This conversation, however, always returns to the question of the practicality and usefulness of this technology.

Looking back at the early days of FingerWorks, it seems that many of these questions had been addressed. FingerWorks co-founder John Elias described the technology back in 2002:
"To observers watching somebody use multi-touch, it looks a little like magic," Elias said, illustrating his point on a computer in Evans Hall. "People see lots of things happening on the computer screen but very little hand motion is observed."
In 2003, one professor found that the Multi-Touch keyboards actually improved data entry speeds compared to standard input:
Hedge has tested the products in the lab and found that people can improve their data-entry speed by at least 50 percent when using gestures instead of the point-and-click motion of the mouse.
FingerWorks had even manufactured a Multi-Touch keyboard replacement for Apple's notebooks called "MacNTouch". The MacNTouch product pages remain on FingerWorks.com, although they are not well linked from the main site.




This product gives some insight into the minds of the FingerWorks Multi-Touch designers. These designers, of course, now work at Apple after the company was acquired in 2005. The MacNTouch keyboard was an aftermarket product that offered PowerBook users a full Multi-Touch interface, complete with Mac OS X drivers:
MacNTouch Keyboards integrate the functions of a large-area super touchpad, a multi-hand, gesture input command station, and a ZeroForce ergonomic keyboard, all on the same smooth surface.
Apple's ongoing research suggests that they are still looking into the possibility of reviving these technologies in future products.

Article Link: Practicality of Multi-Touch and an Early PowerBook Multi-Touch Keyboard Design
 

carfac

macrumors 65816
Feb 18, 2006
1,217
1
And now that Apple owns ALL patents to multi-touch interfaces, we shall see no more develiopement in this regard.
 
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Mal

macrumors 603
Jan 6, 2002
6,249
17
Orlando
And now that Apple owns ALL patents to multi-touch interfaces, we shall see no more develiopement in this regard.

Apple does not own all patents on multi-touch technology. They own patents related to the iPhone's method of multi-touch sensitivity and interface, which covers a broad range and means they have a lot to work with, but they are far from owning all the patents and far from being able to stifle competition in multi-touch technology.

jW
 
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saltsaltsalt

macrumors newbie
Feb 26, 2009
1
0
Put the iPhone screen tech in place of keyboards and we have a winner.

This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response or else you would have to be constantly looking at the keyboard, which is fine for the iphone, since it's located on the screen, but slightly less than ok for a laptop.
 
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iOrlando

macrumors 68000
Jul 20, 2008
1,811
1
I like how the multi-touch trackpad is on the new macbooks. I think as long as apple moves forward with that design all will be happy. Like..two finger left to go back a previous page on safari (maybe you can already do that). i haven't been able to (i try every once in a while)

Changing the layout of the keyboard - meh..i dont know about that.

and apple is good at this = more options doesn't equal better. Some people have said oh i want to be able to pinch screens..and make this twirl..and make that twist on my laptop screen. I feel all of that might sound great...but when it comes down to it..it will be a pain to size and just surf the net....just keep it simple....as it is done now.
 
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illegallydead

macrumors 6502a
Oct 22, 2007
714
0
Colorado!!!
Am I the only one who thinks the MacNTouch looks like he*l? I for one hate the "ergonomic" keyboards... So, how was the multitouch implemented on this? Was is like fondle/lightly touch the keys to work as a multitouch surface, and actually press them and they act like keys? Interesting idea, but poor design, IMO.

This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response or else you would have to be constantly looking at the keyboard, which is fine for the iphone, since it's located on the screen, but slightly less than ok for a laptop.

That is why I have said in other threads that the design of laptops in general will have to experience a paradigm shift if we REALLY want multitouch to play a big role in our interaction with them. As it stands, we can have rudimentary gestures like what are in place with the trackpads, but the current was computers are built represents a poor way to implement multitouch.

And yes, I have a feeling that physical keyboards with actual buttons are here for the long haul, at least for those folks who do input large amounts of text and need it to be pretty error free...
 
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Rot'nApple

macrumors 65816
Dec 27, 2006
1,152
1
I DID build that!
This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response or else you would have to be constantly looking at the keyboard, which is fine for the iphone, since it's located on the screen, but slightly less than ok for a laptop.


Obviously, you have never seen Data of 'Star Trek The Next Generation', "type" in the coordinates to get the Star Ship "Enterprise" out of harms way in 1.326589 nano seconds using nothing but a multi touch, non tactile keyboard! :D
 
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Abstract

macrumors Penryn
Dec 27, 2002
24,560
402
Location Location Location
I like how the multi-touch trackpad is on the new macbooks. I think as long as apple moves forward with that design all will be happy. Like..two finger left to go back a previous page on safari (maybe you can already do that). i haven't been able to (i try every once in a while)

Changing the layout of the keyboard - meh..i dont know about that.

and apple is good at this = more options doesn't equal better. Some people have said oh i want to be able to pinch screens..and make this twirl..and make that twist on my laptop screen. I feel all of that might sound great...but when it comes down to it..it will be a pain to size and just surf the net....just keep it simple....as it is done now.

I agree with all of this. I don't know if I really want more multi-touch commands, particularly not on the trackpad. I also don't want a touchscreen laptop because I know I'll never touch the screen on my laptop. Tablets are different, but leave laptops the way they are.

In other words, I don't want many more multi-touch commands. Perhaps a way to edit the finger gestures that perform each task would be nice just so that consumers have a choice.

This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response.

Exactly. I want tactile response from a keyboard.
 
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Mr Skills

macrumors 6502a
Nov 21, 2005
801
1
This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response or else you would have to be constantly looking at the keyboard

Think about it though. When you touch-type, you are not feeling for the keys braille-style, you go straight for them. The only feedback you get is the fact that you've pressed a key. Isn't that what haptic feedback does?

[Actually, thinking about it, you still need tactile feedback for the initial finger position. I wonder if there are any patents in the works for that...]
 
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illegallydead

macrumors 6502a
Oct 22, 2007
714
0
Colorado!!!
Not sure if that was meant to be funny, but it made me smile ;)

lol nope that was a good 'ol spelling mistak ops, i ded it again! ahhhhh! :D
Anyway, its corrected now...

Think about it though. When you touch-type, you are not feeling for the keys braille-style, you go straight for them. The only feedback you get is the fact that you've pressed a key. Isn't that what haptic feedback does?

[Actually, thinking about it, you still need tactile feedback for the initial finger position. I wonder if there are any patents in the works for that...]

I think there is, and MR might have done a story on it, I forget though. It was all about a sort of suspension system similar to what the Blackberry Storm uses, so you still have a fully touch-sensitive display/pad, but it erects small little dimples or even "borders" for the keys when it is in keyboard mode, so you do have the sensation of keys, somewhat, to help you find your way...
 
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Abstract

macrumors Penryn
Dec 27, 2002
24,560
402
Location Location Location
Think about it though. When you touch-type, you are not feeling for the keys braille-style, you go straight for them. The only feedback you get is the fact that you've pressed a key. Isn't that what haptic feedback does?

I want to make sure that I actually hit the key when I type quickly on my phone. Right now, if you're using a phone and you're typing quickly with your thumbs, you can't make sure that your tap registered or not, so you need to look up at what you're typing at to ensure that no words are misspelt. However, I don't type massive messages from my mobile, so it's OK.

On a computer keyboard designed for full-time use, this would be unbearable.
 
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God^Cent

macrumors member
Jul 27, 2007
63
0
This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response or else you would have to be constantly looking at the keyboard, which is fine for the iphone, since it's located on the screen, but slightly less than ok for a laptop.

Not to mention an additional screen would kill battery life.

I wouldn't foresee a full multitouch keyboard being plausible until Oleds become less expensive IMO.
 
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amac4me

macrumors 65816
Apr 26, 2005
1,303
0
Rest assured that Apple will be releasing more Multi-Touch enabled products in the years to come. I'd love to see a tablet Mac with Multi-Touch as a central feature.
 
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nkawtg72

macrumors 6502
Aug 16, 2007
308
0
devil's advocate...

i'm reminded of a conversation i had with my father back in the 80s when he said "CDs?! those will never catch on, people won't buy them, they cost too much!!"

i certainly understand people's criticisms of a touch interface for keyboards, however, i think we all can agree that for what it's worth it's probably way to early to pick sides on whether they (touch interfaces) will make it or not.

like the post above indicates, studies have shown that productivity can/will improve using such a technology. i'm not familiar with the details of the study to be a total fanboy of it, but i'm willing to listen to it at this point.

to those criticizing the layout of the keyboard (the ergonomic style), i assume you understand that it would only make sense that you would not be forced to just that one layout with such a technology, which is the whole point. not only would you have several layouts available to choose from, but i imagine you could create your own custom layouts, and applications could also include their own configurations that appear when the app is active.

i own an iphone, and before i bought it, one of my concerns was whether i'd ever get used to the "glass" environment and lack of tactile feedback. i'm here to say that after a year and a half on the iphone, it's pretty safe to say i will never own another phone with actual keys/buttons. that's my OPINION, and i respect people who may differ on that.

my point though is to look beyond that "glass" and consider other technologies that Apple has included. For example, the predictive typing (not spellcheck) that tells itself you must have meant to hit the "K" and not the "J" because there is no known word that contains that particular sequence of characters. i think it's safe to say, with a larger surface area such as a laptop keyboard, the accuracy of someone's typing could be extended, well beyond that of the current iPhone, using just these technologies that we have now.

i for one think that, when implemented properly, a touch interface would not only enhance a users experience and productivity but also preserve the "choice" that users seek by not being forced to a specific design. this concept has worked great on the iPhone, every app, has its own unique style of interacting with the user yet it still conforms to a specified design criteria to provide uniformity across the user experience.
 
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okeribok

macrumors newbie
Feb 26, 2009
20
53
This is a terrible idea, people need to be productive on their computer, which means that they need tactile response or else you would have to be constantly looking at the keyboard, which is fine for the iphone, since it's located on the screen, but slightly less than ok for a laptop.

I agree. I used to own a FingerWorks TouchStream keyboard and after a day of serious use, my fingertips were tingling; try just tapping your fingers for eight hours on a tabletop and you will understand.

So not for serious use. Then again, Apple has forsaken Pro's with the MacBook Pro when they made its screen shiny, so I wouldn't put it past them to use the OLPC 2 setup...
 
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cfactor

macrumors newbie
Sep 20, 2005
3
0
And now that Apple owns ALL patents to multi-touch interfaces, we shall see no more develiopement in this regard.

Actually, FingerWorks was acquired by Apple few years ago. Many of Apple's new multi-touch tech are probably based on FingerWorks tech. An old coworker had their TouchStream LP keyboard (probably one of their flagship product.) He loved it and it was a big help for his carpal tunnel. It looks like this MacNTouch was parts of TouchStream tech squeezed into a powerbook keyboard size.

When Apple acquired FingerWorks and their product lines died, price of used TouchStream LP on eBay shot through the roof. It already had a high retail price of $300 when it was still being produced, and you can still see these on eBay every now and then and they sell for around $900.

The TouchStream was good for programmers ergonomically. Whenever you needed to move your mouse cursor, the entire keyboard became to touchpad. You just had to put two or three fingers (I never got to use one) and drag. You never had to move your hand to move the mouse!

It only took my coworker about three weeks to get used to it, and he was able to type just as fast as he could before after the initial training.

Now that I understand my typing habits better, I'm wishing I had got one of these when they were still being produced. I hope Apple release a newer version of TouchStream type keyboards, not just for laptops, but for desktops as well.
 
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crobi222

macrumors newbie
Nov 11, 2008
19
0
The tactile feeling some people talk about here is s non sens, because when you feel the touch of a physical keyboard , your finger is already on the key, so that feeling is already too late.

A tactile keyboard will be very usefull. Imagine opening Garageband and the keyboard change to a piano keyboard.

You can switch to a french, spanish or english keyboard as you wish.

You can have a mixer tablet instead of the keyboard when you mix music.

The sky is the limit.
 
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Digital Skunk

macrumors 604
Dec 23, 2006
7,995
656
In my imagination
I agree. I used to own a FingerWorks TouchStream keyboard and after a day of serious use, my fingertips were tingling; try just tapping your fingers for eight hours on a tabletop and you will understand.

So not for serious use. Then again, Apple has forsaken Pro's with the MacBook Pro when they made its screen shiny, so I wouldn't put it past them to use the OLPC 2 setup...

Exactly, if it's cool and gimmicky Apple will be all over it.

Personally I'd like to have a multi touch surface that doubles as a Wacom tablet that adds some functionality to the machine. Making it the keyboard may not be the best thing IMHO, especially if we are using the horrible keyboard on the iPhone as a reference.

Maybe if Apple looked at other companies touch keyboards for help then sure.
 
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