How Touching

by Guy Smith - Date: 2007-01-25 - Word Count: 562 Share This!

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 ...

Related Tags: software, hp, application, screen, touch, applue

Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies. Guy brings a combination of technical, managerial and marketing experience to Silicon Strategies projects. Guy has more than a decade of experience in product marketing, product strategy and branding strategy development.

Both in VP level roles as well as through consulting, Guy has led efforts on marketing technology products and services as diverse as enterprise backup software, Collaborative Software Development (CSD) systems, donation management portals and language/localization services. Guy's primary focus is on market strategy development from product conception to product launch.

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