How Touching

I love when history repeats itself.  A new round of suckers arrive to
lay wagers against.

When the backs of my ears were still damp and Lotus 1-2-3 was the cool, new
technology, HP came close to popularizing touch screens for PCs.  Their
HP-150 — an all-in-one PC with an unfortunately tiny screen and a truly
innovative way of engineering a no-touch touch screen — was thrust into the
market.  The HP-150 had a run longer than most anyone predicted, and as
best as I can tell not at all because of the touch screen.

The problem was not in the engineering (well, aside from the fact fat
fingered troglodytes had a miserable experience when attempting to use the tiny
9" touch screen).  It was that very few applications needed a touch screen,
and with the HP-150 being the only corporate desktop being shipped with that
capability, few application vendors bothered to explore the potential.

Which made last week interesting in as much as HP appears to be at it again,
though Apple is getting it right, and IDC thinks HP might learn something from
Apple (they sure missed the boat when Job and Woz tried to teach them the first
time).

At CES, HP was showing off a new touch screen Vista Media PC.  But the
interface seems to have few uses beyond launching applications and within a few
provided point applications.  The interface appear to be a half breed
bastard child of a common touch screen and Microsoft’s tablet PC controls. 
HP may well have more success than with the ancient HP-150 in as much as many of
the interfaces are embedded Windows itself, and thus some applications will
"work" without additional application coding.

But as an application does little well with a mouse until the assumption of
the presence of a mouse is made by the programmer, so too will applications lack
sophisticated usability until a touch screen is assumed.  If HP’s new touch
screen is not an open standard, odds are nobody will invest the software
development required to take advantage of it.

Apple on the other hand made a touch screen a reality on their iPhone personal
…. "device"
(what do you call a gizmo that is your MP3 player, cell phone,
and PDA, portable web browser, and object of lust all rolled into one? ) As
with the Mac, Apple took great pains to insulate the user from the technology by
making sure the technology drove the user experience.  All applications in
the iPhone are driven through the touch screen, and by the absence of a physical
keypad, all future applications will do the same.

Would HP or any PC vendor dare to go that far?  IDC thinks so. IDC notes that consumer products may now be the technology leader in terms of the direction in which innovation happens.  This is a reversal of fate from the Bad Old Days when expensive technology created for IT slowly commoditized to fit the budgets of home users.  Today costs are so low that the mass market drives innovation (because there are a lot more iPod buyers than
mainframe buyers), and some consumer electronics innovations leak up to IT.

In both cases, the driver is clear: the application comes first. 
Regardless of the niche, the interaction of the user with the application — be
it ERP or MP3 — is paramount.  Now if HP could just afford to hire Steve
Jobs back …


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