Multi-Touch: Diving Below the Surface

Brian Christiansen

July 5th, 2007

A little while back I blogged about Microsoft’s impressive Surface multi-touch table computer demo. With the launch of the Apple iPhone (have you seen the great demo video?), the world is a buzz about multi-touch.

There was a discussion on the IxDA email list about the origins of Surface, and Chris Bernard, a UX Evangelist at Microsoft wrote in to shed some light on the topic.

Some people have asked on this list how Microsoft Surface was created and who worked on it, with specific inquiries into Bill Buxton. Bill has consulting on the project since about 2004 (About a year before he came into Microsoft). The principal folks in Microsoft that made the project a reality are guys named Andy Wilson and Steve Bathiche.

Bill Buxton has been one of the pioneers behind multi-touch devices, which have been advancing since the early 1980s. Jared has mentioned Bill’s influential ideas around these parts before. Bill’s website has a section dedicated to all the attention multi-touch has gotten of late. He’s been deluged with inquiries so he decided an online brain dump was in order. Buxton gives us some of the history and tenets of multi-touch thinking, like

Everything is best for something and worst for something else. The trick is knowing what is what, for what, when, for whom, where, and most importantly, why. Those who try the replace the mouse play a fool’s game. The mouse is great for many things. Just not everything. The challenge with new input is to find devices that work together, simultaneously with the mouse (such as in the other hand), or things that are strong where the mouse is weak, thereby complimenting it.

Buxton’s overview of the development of multi-touch is absolutely fascinating. Did you know there was an all-touch-screen mobile smartphone developed by IBM and BellSouth in 1993? Wow.

We’ll close out our multi-touch discussion with two videos. First, here’s Jeff Han presenting his multi-touch device at TED 2006.

And lastly, if you haven’t seen the parody of the Microsoft Surface video from Sarcastic Gamer, it’s well worth your time.

4 Responses to “Multi-Touch: Diving Below the Surface”

  1. P. Arora Says:

    Thanks for the post Brian and sharing the videos. I’m blown away with Jeff Han’s demo on multi-touch device and agree with his thoughts that “Moving forward we should not conform to machines but machines should conform to us”.

  2.» Blog Archive » Multi-Touch: Diving Below the Surface Says:

    […] A followup on Brian’s Microsoft Surface post, including some background on the multi-touch interface and a few interesting and fun videos. Source: [Link] […]

  3. Francois Aubin Says:

    The parody is great. It say something about usefulness or hype versus usefulness. There is plenty of things that one day could be done by combining surface with tangible objects. For example for complex SCADA systems. But this parody video really make a point.


  4. links for 2007-07-12 (Leapfroglog) Says:

    […] » Multi-Touch: Diving Below the Surface » UIE Brain Sparks Some background on multi-touch interfaces including a link to a history of multi-touch by Buxton. Curiously missing is Philips’ Entertaible (ugh). (tags: multitouch history touchscreens interfaces interactiondesign IxD) […]

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