Nov 15, 2008

Multi-touch and Flash: Links to resources, revisiting Jeff Han's TED 2006 presentation

Despite the increase in interest in systems that support multi-touch, multi-user multimedia interaction, there is a need for creative, tech-savvy types to develop innovative applications. Why? This technology has the potential to make a powerful impact on how people learn, communicate, solve "big picture" problems, and do their various jobs.

CNN's Magic Wall was one of the first applications to gain the attention of the masses, as it was used as an interactive map during the US presidential election process. Touch-screen interaction gained even more notice after the recent SNL parody by Fred Amisen.

If you think about it, the multi-touch applications you see on the news aren't much different than what you'd get from a "single-touch" program.

Fancy, yes. Truly innovative, no.

Just imagine a 3D multi-touch, multi-user, multimedia version of Google Search. I did. I put my sketches in my idea book and hurt my brain thinking about how it could be coded.

Jeff Han, the man behind Perceptive Pixel and CNN's magic wall, had much more up his sleeve when he demonstrated his work at TED 2006. Even if you've previously seen this video, it is worth looking at again. (I've provided a link to the transcript below.)

Transcript of Jeff Han's TED 2006 Presentation

This video presentation had a transformational effect on me as I watched for the first time. Jeff Han brought to life ideas that were similar to my own as a beginning computer student thinking about collaborative educational games and multimedia applications that could be played on interactive whiteboards.

Here are some selected quotes from the video:

I really really think this is gonna change- really change the way we interact with the machines from this point on."

Again, the interface just disappears here. There's no manual. This is exactly what you kind of expect, especially if you haven't interacted with a computer before."

"Now, when you have initiatives like the hundred dollar laptop, I kind of cringe at the idea that we're gonna introduce a whole new generation of people to computing with kind of this standard mouse-and-windows pointer interface. This is something that I think is really the way we should be interacting with the machines from this point on. (applause)"

"Now this is going to be really important as we start getting to things like data visualization. For instance, I think we all really enjoyed Hans Rosling's talk, and he really emphasized the fact that I've been thinking about for a long time too, we have all this great data, but for some reason, it's just sitting there. We're not really accessing it. And one of the reasons why I think that is, is because of things like graphics- will be helped by things like graphics and visualization and inference tools. But I also think a big part of it is gonna be- starting to be able to have better interfaces, to be able to drill down into this kind of data, while still thinking about the big picture here."

So now what?

A recent post by "Alex", on the
AFlex World blog discusses a few solutions. Alex had a chance to meet with Harry van der Veen and Pradeep George from the NUI Group, and Georg Kaindl, a multi-touch interaction designer from the Technical University of Vienna. The focus of the discussion was to come up with ideas to encourage Adobe/Flash designers and developers to learn more about multi-touch technology and interaction, and take steps to create innovative applications.

I especially like the following quote from the post:

"...A quick quote from our conversations: “When our children will walk up to a display, they will touch it and expect to do something.”

As a techie and a school psychologist, I see an immediate need for innovative applications. I know that there is a built-in market in the schools, at least for low-cost applications. Despite economic constraints, many school districts continue to invest in interactive whiteboards (IWB's). They are cropping up in preschool and K-12 settings, and teachers are searching for more than what's currently available.

Interactive, collaborative applications are needed in fields such as health care, patient education, finance & economics, urban planning, civil engineering, travel & tourism, museums & exhibitions, special events, entertainment, and more.

Smart Technologies, the company behind SmartBoards, has a new interactive multi-touch, multi-user table designed for K-6 education, the Smart Table. Hewlett Packard has several versions of the TouchSmart PC, which can support at least duo-touch, if not multi-touch, multi-user applications. There are numerous all-in-one large screen display
s on the market that support multi-touch and multi-user interaction.

Quotes from Harry van der Veen, of Multitouch NL:

"In 10 years from now when a child walks up to a screen he expects it to be a multi-touch screen with which he can interact with by using gestures."

"...multi-touch screens will be as common as for children is the internet nowadays, as common as mobile phones are for us."

Here is a quote from a conversation I had with Spencer, who blogs at TeacherLED.

"It was interesting this week as I was in a classroom with a teacher who I've not worked with before... he had 2 students using the whiteboard who kept touching it together by mistake. The teacher, exasperated, said to himself, "Why can't they make these things to accept 2 touches without going crazy!"

Proof of the demand! I think you are right when teachers spot the limitations and then see the technology on visits to museums, that might stimulate demand."

Spencer creates cool interactive mini-applications, mostly for math, using Flash, that teachers (and students) love to use on interactive whiteboards. (He's interested in multi-touch, too.)

So what are we waiting for?!

Natural User Interface Europe AB meets Adobe
Georg's Touche Framework
NUI Group
Interactive Touch-Screen Technology, Participatory Design, and "Getting It".
Hans Rosling's 2007 TED talk
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