Why Desktop Touch Screens Don't Really Work Well For Humans

Hewlett Packard refreshed their TouchSmart line of computers today. If you’re not familiar with these, imagine an iMac all in one computer that has a touch screen, and you’re most of the way there.

I really like the TouchSmart line, and use a second generation machine as my main Windows test computer. The touch interface is done via infrared, which is a very cost effective way of creating a touch interface on a large screen. Microsoft, in fact, uses it in their experimental TouchWall product that can make a touch screen of virtually any size wall (more TouchWall footage).

Overall I give the TouchSmart top marks – the only drawback is that it is inexplicably heavy at something like 60 lbs., and no one seems to know why. But since it sits on your desk, it’s not like you’re lifting it very often, so it doesn’t really matter.

But the machine is still all wrong. Anyone who has used one for a long time will tell you that they quickly revert to using the keyboard and mouse. And it isn’t because of the software or touch technology – both are fine.

The problem is that you get tired keeping your hands up and on the screen for a long period of time. Touch experts I’ve spoken with say it’s because your hands are above your heart, which isn’t comfortable for very long.

You don’t get this problem with Microsoft’s Surface computer, which is a low table in front of you. And the TouchSmart layout tends to work well in the kitchen, where you’re standing at a counter with the computer at a lower level.

But for the desktop, it just doesn’t work.

So what does the future of desktop touch computing look like?

Most experts I’ve spoken with agree that the problem was actually solved centuries ago. The proper layout for a desktop touch screen machine is the architect’s desk – a slightly inclined desktop that is a touch screen for your computer. With the advances in touch technology most users won’t need any peripheral input device (keyboard, mouse, etc.) to be productive on inclined desktop touch screen machine. The desk should also be somewhat shorter than a normal desk – the bottom of the screen should basically be on your lap, and you would be mostly looking down on the machine.

If I were HP, I’d design a version of the TouchSmart that inclined way down to a 25 degree or so angle. My guess is people would love it. Until, of course, they realized the viewing angle for the LCD screen was so poor that the screen was unreadable. But that too can be fixed.