Analysis: Apple's Got a Nice Touch, But It's Not Multi-touch

But what is known is that Apple already is deploying a nifty touch technology -- called “capacitive touch” -- on its iPhone platform. It would certainly provide the “wow” factor in a new Mac, but if it’s anything like the iPhone it’s most certainly not Multi-touch.

Though there are no industry standards for what should be or shouldn’t be considered multi-touch, Microsoft’s Wikipedia entry on Surface computing hits the mark.

The capacitive touch technology has been around for more than a decade and the physics are well understood. Yet, capacitive touch has been shown to be too complex to detect real time coordinates of multiple fingers on large surface areas. The technology is limited to small pads and glass surfaces. Multi-touch properties like finger gestures are limited to two fingers at most due to the size of the screens and the capacitive technology.

Unless Apple has something up its sleeve using capacitive touch that will revolutionize the emerging multi-touch industry, capacitive touch is too limited to be hyped as a multi-touch technology. It’s nice to be able to re-size photos on an iPhone using two fingers, but the real trick would be to perform full-blown Photoshop editing on an iMac and big screen using both hands. That’s one difference between capacitive touch and multi-touch.

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Apple fans might not like to hear this, but one of that company’s top rivals is already showing true multi-touch progress. A lesser known touch technology that uses infra-red detection to capture fingers on a screen has already achieved that goal. Infra-red based multi-touch will be available on the new Microsoft Surface table. The table uses infra-red lighting with PC cameras to detect fingers on a plexiglass screen. Rudimentary as it might sound, this is the current state of true multi-touch technology.

To get a glimpse at how multi-touch screens should react to finger and hand gestures go to the Surface computing Web site or the research demos at NYU's Web site.

Microsoft is also embedding Infra-red circuits in the back of LCDs to capture finger movement. The LCD technology, however, is in its infancy (or should we say, baby fingers.)