Researchers have bigger plans for ‘multi-touch’ beyond Apple’s iPhone

“When Steve Jobs demonstrated Apple’s new phone at Macworld recently, the feature that elicited the most ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience was the touch-screen interface: it allowed more than one touch at a time. This ‘multi-touch’ technology adds functions such as allowing a person to easily zoom in and out of pictures and Web pages by pinching the screen with two fingers,” Kate Greene reports for MIT’s Technology Review.

Greene reports, “But the full power of multi-touch technology might be unleashed in screens far larger than those on phones. Over the past few years, Jeff Han, consulting research scientist at New York University, has developed an inexpensive way to make large multi-touch screens accommodating 10, 20, or even more fingers. He envisions applications ranging from interactive whiteboards to touch-screen tables and digital walls–any of which could be manipulated by more than just one person. And this month, Han has unveiled Perceptive Pixel, his new company based on the technology.”

Greene reports, “There are many ways to make a multi-touch screen, Han explains. Some of the early designs measured the change in electrical resistance or capacitance on a surface when fingers touched it. But these devices have limited resolution, are relatively complex, and don’t easily and inexpensively scale up to large dimensions. Apple has not disclosed what multi-touch technology it’s using on the iPhone.”

Greene reports, “Some researchers are even developing touchable displays that can touch back. The emerging technology that enables this is called haptics. One type of haptics technology involves a surface that senses when it’s touched and then vibrates at various frequencies, depending on the placement of one’s fingers. This sort of technology could be useful for the touch keyboard on Apple’s iPhone, says Scott Klemmer, professor of computer science at Stanford University. ‘You wouldn’t get the tactile feel of real buttons, but [because of the vibrations] you can tell you’ve touched a real button.'”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: We first covered Jeff Han’s multi-touch interface last February with a direct link to video of Han’s UI and a link to Wired’s “Cult of Mac” coverage. At the time, we wrote, “This could change everything. Again.”

In recent days, Han has updated his website with the cryptic blurb, “Yes, we saw the keynote too! We have some very, very exciting updates coming soon- stay tuned!”

Jeff Han’s “Multi-Touch Interaction Research” Web site:

Related article:
Video of how Apple’s rumored touch-screen Tablet Mac could work – February 13, 2006


  1. In 1984, Apple changed the world by introducing the point-and-click GUI to the masses (never mind that the Lisa with a similar GUI was actually released in 1981).

    It took Microsoft more than a decade to replicate that point-and-click GUI with Windows 95.

    But the point-and-click GUI remains essentially unchanged since 1984. A Mac user running OS X Tiger would feel very comfortable driving the original 128 KB Mac, for example.

    Well, all that’s about to change in 2007. Apple is ready to replace the point-and-click GUI. 2007 will be the year of the Multi-Touch GUI. Imagine Multi-Touch iLife ’07. The “Top Secret” feature of Leopard? Multi-Touch. All running on shiny new Multi-Touch Mac hardware (will that be a huge reason to upgrade or what).

    Now THAT would be a development worthy of a SuperBowl commercial. Beatles on iTunes? Blah.

  2. “Scott Klemmer, professor of computer science at Stanford University. ‘You wouldn’t get the tactile feel of real buttons, but [because of the vibrations] you can tell you’ve touched a real button.'””

    This would Kick Holy Ass. The possibilities are literally endless. Goodbye to all physical buttons forever.

    And as they did with USB and CDRoms, it takes a company like Apple to show us what the future will look like. The iPhone is only the beginning of a cascade of redesigned consumer goods with context modified interfaces.

  3. So I was looking at the video on Han’s Multi-touch website, and if you notice, in the third demonstration, he uses the pinching feature of the iPhone to zoom. Portents of whose multi-touch they’re using, perhaps? Also, I’ve heard people say that Mac can’t take over the market no matter how much better it is, not because people refuse to change, or anything like that, but rather because almost every single company is entrenched in M$’s trash, and that the only way for Mac to take over the PC market would be to revolutionize how you interact with your computer, making it something completely new, rather than simply making a better and more pleasant user interface. I think multi-touch is that technology, that revolution. The day of the Mac is near at hand!

    MDN word: “Close” as in, close the doors Microsoft, Apple’s taking over.

  4. Ever seen a HP© Calculator with its several function keys,
    used to switch the functions assigned to other keys.
    Real pain to understand and use.
    Replacing the calculator’s physical key layout with an iPhone kind of layout,
    with OS X, communications, big screen layout for graphing, et cetera,
    presents distinct possiblities which surpass all current calculator capabilities.

  5. NewType:

    Holy shit!@£$*&&*@£@

    that would be the most amazing feature ever. I’ve got a MacBook C2D and I would buy a new one with leopard instantly. If they made this feature as simple as it is on the iPhone but on a full leopard scale, Apple’s share of the computer market will literally soar. I’d say something silly and unbelievable like 20-30% by 2009.

    interesting times we are all in…

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