Adding high-touch to the high-tech
Touch computing has come a long way since the introduction of point-of-sale and banking touch screens. Today we think about touch computing less as pointing a finger and more as the kind of sweeping gestures we saw in science-fiction movies like Minority Report.
Windows 7 supports the detection of multiple fingers and gesture-based manipulation, like the pinch-based zooming that everyone showed you on their iPhone when they first got it. You can now pinch to shrink, move fingers apart to enlarge, twist to rotate, and flick to page through documents -- as long as you pay a slight premium for touch-screen hardware.
A few major PC manufacturers are making this available on their portable lines. Lenovo is pumping up its existing ThinkPad X200 Tablet PC and slimline ThinkPad T400 by adding multitouch capabilities for around $200 over their usual prices.
These X200s and T400s will also debut a productivity tool called SimpleTap. You tap the screen with two fingers and a series of tiles pop up, front and center. These let you perform common tasks such as adjusting the screen brightness or system volume, setting the Webcam and hibernating or locking the computer. You can create custom tiles to launch specific Web pages or documents as well.
Toshiba is also launching two multitouch applications: ReelTime and Bulletin Board. ReelTime is a file timeline that lets you browse recent documents you've been working on with a sweep of the hand.
Bulletin Board is a more visceral and visual way of displaying documents in a project than Windows Explorer. You slap together pictures, documents, to-do lists and other thumbnails onto a virtual corkboard, rearrange and resize them and work with them from there. Each image on the Bulletin Board is a shortcut to the existing documents in your document folders. In other words, you don't lose control of your filing structure by using Bulletin Board; you just gain another way of organizing your work space.
Take a couple of tablets
Lenovo's ThinkPad X200 is by no means the only tablet PC to tap into Windows 7's multitouch capabilities. The Dell Latitude XT2 Tablet sports a dual digitizer to handle natural gestures like pinches and taps from even the gentlest touches, but keeps the positioning accurate enough for precision panning, rotating, zooming and so on. And it packs on the battery capacity too, with the option to add a six-cell battery to give you almost 11.5 hours of work time. These extras pump the price up above the starting gate of $1,909, but if you've got to keep going, you'll want to pony up.
Meanwhile, Archos is so convinced that multitouch is the wave of the future that it has done away with the keyboard altogether in its $500 Archos 9 netbook-sized tablet -- or Internet Media Tablet, as the company prefers to call it.
Without a keyboard, the Archos 9 gets down to .68 of an inch thick, and allows its resistive screen to double as a keyboard. (If onscreen keyboards don't do it for you, you can connect a physical keyboard via Bluetooth.)
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