No doubt about it: touch is coming to more screens near you. But there’s no need to disappoint your current beloved laptop. $200 kits can turn your laptop into a functioning touchscreen.
Now, as I’m working with JazzMutant’s Lemur this week, before you get excited, this is no Lemur – or even anything like your iPhone or iPod touch. Sensitivity and accuracy are workable, but not exceptional, the overlay is pretty simple (as you can see in the video) rather than integrated with the display, and this is single-touch only — not multi-touch. Lastly, on a conventional laptop that isn’t convertible, you may miss the ability to fully extend your laptop perpindicular to your body. (Having the screen be parallel can put your arms in a fatiguing position.)
But that said, there’s a lot of potential once you have the ability to reach over and make quick gestures on a laptop screen that control a set. You might make your own instruments and effects or controller dashboards in a tool like Processing or Reaktor. And at $200, this could be a brilliant way to retrofit a machine and breathe new life into it. There’s support for Mac, Windows, and Linux; you just plug in via USB.
In this case, Sensomusic Usine is perfectly suited to the job, with an interface built just for this purpose. Their Touch Screen Edition earns major kudos for being a full desktop computer music environment built around touch, as covered here previously.
Of course, all of this potential is likely to make you want more sophisticated, multi-touch solutions even more. The outlook is improving. Windows 7 will bring native support for multi-touch gestures – not so much important news in itself so much as a sign that more hardware vendors could add support, ramp up volume and lower prices. HP is already shipping computers (including laptops) with multi-touch.
Also interestingly, the creators of the JazzMutant Lemur multi-touch hardware – specifically designed for music and visuals – have now expanded their mission to targeting general-purpose devices. The new company, Stantum, is showing off fantastic, unique technologies for multi-touch, as seen recently in an Engadget preview. Beautifully designed as the iPhone is, these offer some unique features like intensive accuracy and support for input from objects (like styluses) and not just fingertips. That could mean the Lemur is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
Here’s a tantalizing look at the Santum SMK screen working with Max/MSP. Unlike the Lemur, that means direct controlling Max’s widgets, rather than treating the screen like an independent controller.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the simpler, single-touch, cheap solution couldn’t be a great project right now, and a chance to get a leg up on The Future. If anyone tries one, let us know what it’s like.