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Time for true multi-touch


ouch technology has quietly – but almost completely – revolutionised the way people interact with computers. Intuitive touch applications that can be accessed easily by casual users are shortening queues in

stores and fuel stations, for example, by enabling fast, easy self service. Touch-enabled interactive signage is helping shoppers find the outlets they need in large and busy shopping malls, and touch-based control panels are helping industrial staff set up and supervise complex processes with minimal training. Touch panels are even helping patients monitor their own vital signs without needing to see a doctor. Touch has successfully permeated everyday life, and allows vast numbers of people to interact confidently with high- tech equipment.

The arrival of the iPhone and subsequent competing smartphone designs has taken market acceptance – and expectations – to an even higher level. By supporting gesture- based actions such as dragging, pinching and flicking, these devices have provided an introduction to basic

enhancements up to dual-touch, which simplify tasks such as managing media, browsing and selecting “apps”, and entering various types of data. Suddenly, the value of more than one touch is appreciated. But these chic devices, with their tiny screen sizes, are only warming up the audience for more exciting and far-reaching developments in the future.

Coming next, full multi-touch functionality – using

more than two fingers – will allow much more sophisticated single-user and multi-user applications capable of responding to 10 or even 20 simultaneous touch inputs. This promises a future offering more intense and engaging gaming experiences, including


Full multi-touch computing is no longer a vision for the future, but presents a tremendous and immediate opportunity, says Paolo Pedrazzoli, EMEA Marketing Operations Manager, 3M Touch Systems

highly intuitive multi-user games, as well as significantly increased productivity and easier collaborative working using professional applications such as 3D modelling tools. We can also expect educational software to become more involving for larger groups of students, as well as new retail experiences. For example, the ability to create custom configurations of products such as clothes or kitchens, walk around, fine-tune, and inspect the result in detail before making a final buying decision.

A clear indication that big developments such as

these are in the air is the arrival of Windows 7 with its built-in MultiTouch platform, which is effectively capable of supporting as many simultaneous touch points as the underlying hardware will permit.

Windows 7 includes out-of-the-box support for

basic gestures similar to those available on today’s latest generation smartphones, allowing most applications to implement features such as dragging an object, adjusting orientation, resizing, or zooming- in, with no specific touch-development effort required. In addition to this, however, Windows 7 provides the features necessary to support full multi- touch capabilities in applications developed by Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to exploit them.

The critical enabling mechanism allowing Windows

7 to support full multi-touch applications is the ability to pass raw data, describing multiple touch points, to the application using a new class of Windows Message: WM_Touch. One WM_Touch message can contain data on several different touch points, which the application must unpack in order to apply appropriate logic to individual touch points. This will allow software developers to significantly increase the scope and diversity of touch-enabled applications.

To create successful multi-touch applications,

however, software developers need access to functioning hardware supporting true multi-touch

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