touch pad


Multi-touch (or multitouch) denotes a set of interaction techniques which allow computer users to control graphical applications with several fingers.

Multi-touch consists of a touch screen (screen, table, wall, etc.) or touchpad, as well as software that recognizes multiple simultaneous touch points, as opposed to the standard touchscreen (e.g. computer touchpad, ATM), which recognizes only one touch point. This effect is achieved through a variety of means, including but not limited to: heat, finger pressure, high capture rate cameras, infrared light, optic capture, tuned electromagnetic induction, ultrasonic receivers, transducer microphones, laser rangefinders, and shadow capture.

Many applications for multi-touch interfaces exist and are being proposed. Some uses are individualistic (e.g., iPhone, iPod touch, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, HTC Diamond ) . However, multi-touch technology is mainly used to incorporate collaboration into the computing experience.


Multi-touch technology dates back to 1982, when the University of Toronto developed the first finger pressure multi-touch display. The same year, Bell Labs at Murray Hill published what is believed to be the first paper discussing touch-screen based interfaces.

Bell Labs

In 1984 Bell Labs engineered a multi-touch screen that could manipulate images with more than one hand. The group at the University of Toronto stopped working on hardware and moved on to software and interfaces, expecting that they would have access to the Bell Labs work.

A breakthrough occurred in 1991, when Pierre Wellner published a paper on his multi-touch “Digital Desk”, which supported multi-finger and pinching motions.


In 1999, Fingerworks, a Newark-based company run by University of Delaware academics John Elias and Wayne Westerman, produced a line of multi-touch products including the iGesture Pad and the TouchStream keyboard. Westerman published a dissertation in 1999 on the subject. In 2005, after years of maintaining a niche line of keyboards and touchpads, Fingerworks was acquired by Apple Computer.

Recent developments

Various companies expanded upon these discoveries in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Mainstream exposure to multi-touch technology occurred in the year 2007, when Apple unveiled the iPhone and Microsoft debuted surface computing. The iPhone in particular has spawned a wave of interest in multi-touch computing, since it permits greatly increased user interaction on a small scale. More robust and customizable multi-touch and gesture-based solutions are beginning to become available, among them TrueTouch, created by Cypress Semiconductor. The following is a compilation of notable uses of multi-touch technology in recent years.

Apple iPhone, iPod touch, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro

In 2005, Apple acquired Fingerworks. In 2007 they introduced the iPhone, marking the first time multi-touch technology was used on a phone. The iPhone includes such components as a web browser, music player, video player, and a cell phone without the use of a hard keypad or stylus.

Following the release of the iPhone, Apple also expanded its use of multi-touch computing with the new iPod Touch, as well as the new MacBook Air. Multi-touch was later added to the 2008 MacBook Pro line in the form of a trackpad.

It is rumored that future Macbooks will feature Multi-touch Screens, this is supported by some pictures of a Macbook Pro that has a small screen for a trackpad, however these could be fake. Apple is currently in the process of trying to patent its “Multi-touch” technology and to trademark the term "multi-touch".

Microsoft Surface

In 2001 Steve Bathiche and Andy Wilson of Microsoft began work on an idea for an interactive table that mixes both physical and virtual worlds. Research and Development expanded rapidly in 2004, once the idea caught the attention of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. In 2007 Microsoft introduced Microsoft Surface, a functional multi-touch table-top computer based on a standard PC platform including an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Windows Vista, and 2 GB of RAM.

Essentially, Microsoft Surface is a computer embedded in a table with a large, flat, touch-responsive display on the top. The table uses small cameras (as opposed to finger pressure or heat) that enable it to react to the touch of any object. The unit has eight different modes that allow users to perform an array of activities,ranging from organizing pictures and videos to ordering a filet at a restaurant. Multiple users have the ability to work on the table at one time. The preliminary launch was on April 17, 2008, when Surface became available for customer use in AT&T stores. The price for one unit is said to range somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.

CUBIT and TouchKit

Addie Wagenknecht and Stefan Hechenberger of Nortd studio, based in New York and Vienna, created a scaled-down open-source version of Surface, called CUBIT (multi-touch) and a screen based kit called TouchKit. According to the website of Technology Review magazine, "By sharing the Cubit's hardware schematics and software source code, the engineers are significantly reducing the cost of owning a multitouch table. But they're also fostering innovation by giving engineers an open platform on which to develop novel multitouch applications--something that they've previously lacked. It will cost anywhere between $1,000 to $1,580 depending on hardware used."

Perceptive Pixel

Perceptive Pixel is a company founded by New York University consulting research scientist Jefferson Y. Han that creates wall displays and tables. The displays use infrared light emitting diodes along with an infrared camera to determine the point of contact. Han envisions large collaborative spaces that will allow multiple users to work and interact. Perceptive Pixel’s technology is currently being utilized, in the form of the Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall, by CNN and an unspecified government contractor.

Asus EEE PC 900

Asus has included a multi-touch touchpad in the Eee PC 900, which they announced in April 2008.

Dell Latitude XT

In July 2008, Dell released multi-touch touch-screen drivers for the Latitude XT Tablet, claiming the "industry’s first convertible tablet with multi-touch capabilities. Dell has partnered with multi-touch technology startup N-trig to enable multi-touch capabilities for its tablet.

Promethean Multi-user Activboard

A number of prototype, simultaneous, multi-input whiteboard techniques have been developed by Promethean Ltd. Many of these ideas were first exhibited at the NECC 2007 trade show in Atlanta as upgrades to their popular Activboard Interactive Whiteboard. New features included collaborative concept mapping and multi user flipcharting. The technology is commonly found in schools with around 200,000 classrooms now equipped with Activboards. The Activboards are currently available in sizes up to 95 inches but larger displays are possible and add little to the cost.

Video of the technology can be seen on YouTube.

Unlike some other multi-touch systems where there is no identification of a particular user or their role, the various Activpen inputs on the Activboard surface can be differentiated, enabling multiple users to operate differing software features and functions simultaneously. This approach is intended for social use of the interactive surfaces where users operating at the same time often need to use different tools or user interface elements to complete a task. When a single user uses two pens, one in each hand, the familiar multi-touch operations such as 'pinching' to scale images and dragging touch points apart to stretch are possible.

MPIS-Multi Point Interaction Surface

Multitouch Research in New Zealand by James Dalton has lead to the development of The MPIS and can be bought early in 2009 for as little as $3000 NZD for a 1Mtr by 1Mtr touch surface and later custom solutions will be available as well as units with built in computers, currently implementing a website to advertise these screens. The units will use your existing computer using well known versions of Windows XP and Vista although slightly modified to harness the potential of this technology, so users can use everyday programs with ease and most importantly more than one user can operate the system at any given time.


The French company JazzMutant make multi-touch screen controllers with a proprietary screen interface. They output MIDI or OSC for use with music, light or video software and are connected to a computer via a standard ethernet connection. Artists such as Bjork have been known to feature them heavily during live concerts.


The MTmini, created by Seth Sandler, is a very low-cost multi-touch pad that any one can build using a basic webcam, box, and piece of paper. When fingers are placed on the touch surface, shadows are created where the fingers press. The webcam sees these shadows and sends the image to an open-source tracking software called Touchlib. Touchlib tracks these shadows as they move around. MultiKey, a simple multi-user, multi-touch music application, and a photo application (similar to the one used to demonstrate Microsoft Surface) are among the various demo applications that are included in the MTmini free software package. Full details, download link, and video tutorial showing how to build your own MTmini are available at

The future of multi-touch

The use of multi-touch technology is expected to rapidly become common place. For example, touch screen telephones are expected to increase from 200,000 shipped in 2006, to 21 million in 2012. Developers of the technology have suggested a variety of ways that multi-touch can be used including:

  • Enhanced dining experience
    • order food, ask for refills, split check, pay bill, entertainment while dining
  • Concierge service
    • locate landmarks, plan day, uplink info to cellular phone
  • Gaming
  • Governmental use
  • Concept mapping
  • An enhanced multimedia experience
  • Collaboration and instruction on Interactive Whiteboards

Popular culture references

Pop culture has also portrayed potential uses of multi-touch technology in the future. The 2002 motion picture Minority Report portrays a large touch controlled wall display similar to the one created by Jeff Han. Also the television series CSI: Miami introduced both surface and wall displays similar to Microsoft Surface in its sixth season. Another form of a multi-touch computer was seen in the motion picture The Island, where the professor has a multi-touch desktop to organize files.

A device similar to the Surface was seen in the 1982 movie Tron. It took up an executive's entire desk and was used to communicate with the Master Control computer.

See also


External links

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