Imagine touching a screen to directly control Live, Reason, Reaktor, and Max/MSP while you’re playing, with a full view of the interface. That’s been possible with tablet PCs for some time, but not with a touch-centric interface. While the Mac faithful have been drooling over a vague Apple patent for touchscreen interfaces, no one seems to have noticed that Microsoft is planning to build this interface into Windows Vista. Microsoft’s Jim Allchin, head Vista honcho, told Paul Thurrott:

“We’re now supporting touch control in addition to electro-magnetic,” he told me. “We’ve done a lot of innovations here. As you know, our fingers are quite fat [compared to a stylus], so we’ve come up with new approaches for getting the focus on a selection. Also, we needed to think through how to handle left and right mouse buttons easily, and we’ve got a new approach to do that with your fingers. We think that’s very impressive.” This technology will work on any PC with a touch screen display, not just Tablet PC hardware, he said.

Check out the full interview on Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite. Now, how could you use this?

There’s no question why this is cool for music. Inexpensive touch displays are readily available, and when your hands are focused on another instrument like a keyboard or guitar, navigating with touch is often more direct than using a mouse. I recently spoke to electronic music guru Exile, who was working with touchscreens and custom Reaktor patches. He was busy building visual interfaces well-suited to the technique. Propping a little touchscreen remote on a keyboard has some definite appeal.

That said, don’t expect this to be anything like a sophisticated touchscreen interface like the Lemur. Microsoft’s interface sounds like it’s single-touch only, so it’s closer to a current mouse/trackpad interface. And cheap touchscreens tend to feel cheap. It’s not just that you have fat fingers; the tracking is often a little vague.

The good news is, the networked living room might actually drive demand for such products. (Some observers noted even Apple’s patent looked like it might be for a home media remote.) A wireless touch tablet (something like this) could be equally at home as the front-end for a rack-mounted PC onstage.

Falling prices and built-in Vista support do mean this could be a standard feature on computers very soon, and for simple interface moves while playing, that could be great. Right now it looks more appealing as a cheap, eBay-ed touchscreen route than a mature product, but you can bet we’ll be watching.