by Mielle Sullivan, Janus Networks

By now you have probably heard of Microsoft Surface, the expensive tablet PC that enables the user to manipulate images and interact with applications by touching and tapping the surface–similar to a giant iPhone. But now it is confirmed that Windows 7, set to come out sometime this fall, will have some touch and gesture recognition features built in.

Acer also announced on April 30th that its Aspire Z5600 will feature a 24-inch screen with 1080p resolution that was designed specifically to utilize the touch features of Windows 7.

On compatible equipment, Windows 7 will recognize gestures such as: tapping and double-tapping (just as you would with a mouse button); drag and drop; scrolling (by pull-touching the main window rather than a scroll bar); pinching (to zoom in and out); two-finger tapping (to zoom and orient); rotating (by touching two spots and then twisting); flicking (for quick shifts left and right); and pressing-and-holding (to right-click).

As a pure concept the Surface, and all touchscreen technology, has a lot of sex appeal to consumers. But there are doubts the technology will really get mouths watering on the business side. Bill Gates has said the expansion of user interfaces beyond the keyboard will have a far reaching impact on computing. “In the next few years, the roles of speech, gesture, vision, ink, all of those will become huge. For the person at home and the person at work, that interaction will change dramatically,” said Gates at a digital event last year.

There is huge potential for this kind of technology, but habits, ideas and computers will also have to evolve before it fundamentally changes computing. For touch and gesture recognition to take off in the work place, I think work styles and culture will have to change–and that is long sell.

On the consumer side, I don’t see the Surface becoming mainstream until the price comes down–way down. Despite strong interest, the Surface it self sells for about $17,000, and (probably for due to price) is only being sold to retailers and hospitality businesses. Touch technology within computers like the Aspire will catch on if the hardware and software make it natural to use, which may not happen right away.

As with all computing advances, it may take two or three generations to find the right recipe for large scale adoption. However, being part of Windows 7 means touch and gesture recognition has come a long way culturally and technologically, even if kinks need to be worked out and devices themselves still need to evolve.

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