Journler: Blog

What You See is What You Touch: In Search of the Tablet Mac

May 1st, 2007

This is part one of a two part post on touch screen technology and the Tablet Mac.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Leopard’s Delay and the iPhone. I expressed frustration at the direction Apple is taking with the iPhone and criticized the limited nature of the device. At the same time I hoped for an Apple product which the iPhone would herald, a tablet Mac just as powerful as your MacBook but with a touch screen like the iPhone.

The personal computer is on the verge of a paradigm shift, with a well used standard facing replacement. Along with the rest of the industry Apple is at that edge and closer to affecting the change than any other company. The iPod and even the original Apple computer are parallel examples. MP3 players were already around, computers as well, but they were difficult to use, bulky and certainly not elegant. In both cases Apple created a product that not only was generally available to the wider public but was appealing. Apple is about to do the same with touch screen technology.

I’m giving birth to an acronym. You heard it here first: What You See Is What You Touch technology, or WYSIWYT.* Normally you interact with your computer using a keyboard and mouse. This is the old paradigm, the old way of working the hardware side of a user interface. In the coming future the mouse and its associated “click here” standard will give way to a “touch here” interaction. The click will be replaced by the tap. It is a historical irony that the company which made the mouse popular may also do the most to see its demise.

From a user’s standpoint WYSISYT technology is a much more intuitive way of manipulating data on a computer. Instead of moving an attached device on a distinct two dimensional plane — your mouse on a mouse pad or desk for example — to interact with the visual representation of a thing on another two dimensional plane — your screen — you touch the visual object itself. In the simple act of reaching for that visual representation, of confining interaction to a single surface, you replace a complex process with a much simpler one. See. Touch. It is the future.

I believe that the passing of the mouse will see the demise of the keyboard as well. Surely the keyboard won’t become entirely obsolete, but the hardware version of it will. Rather than a physical thing, the keyboard will become a visual, on-screen way to enter text that appears and disappears as needed. Because the screen is touch everywhere, this WYSIWYT business, you’ll be able to type on the display like you type now on a keyboard. And imagine, just as you may use and perhaps define gestures — you’ve seen them on the iPhone — you’ll also be able to customize your virtual keypad.

What You See is What You Touch. It’s been around for a while. You use it when you get cash out of an ATM, when you cast your vote in the last election, and when you work with any of the new tablet PCs featuring WYSIWYT by way of a stylus. But the iPhone is WYSIWYT at its best, and Apple may once again be the company that brings this technology to the masses in a revolutionary way.

As exciting as this is, at the edge of a paradigm shift, the iPhone is too small for my tastes. It may be selfish, but I don’t want a cell phone, I don’t want a PDA, and I don’t want a cute or slick media device. I a want a computer that does WYSIWYT, and I want it to be a Mac. Well, I’ve found one that comes very close. I’ve already taken a look at the emerging widespread use of WYSIWYT technology. In part two of this post I’ll talk about the Axiotron ModBook. Turns out this guy was a Best of Show at MacWorld 2007, and it is the first step towards a WYSIWYT Macintosh tablet.

*The Origin of WYSIWYT
Well shoot, after some more research looks like WYSIWYT is already in limited use. Maybe you didn’t hear it here first, but let’s put it on the map! UK Haptics uses the phrase to describe a virtual reality training simulator for medical professionals. Not quite what I’m getting at. A page over at the Tachi laboratory in Japan employs the acronym at a site about interacting with three dimensional objects. Closer. Dead on the mark is Panasonic in what is as far as I can tell a marketing campaign for the CQVD7001N, an in-car CD/DVD player, although the phrase and acronym don’t seem to appear on any of their English language pages. WYSIWYT. Use it proudly and expect to see more of it. What you see is what you touch is the future.

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