The touch era

The last time everyone's relation with their PC changed was when the mouse replaced the keyboard, 20 years ago. This is going to change a lot more of your life than you know now.

With the arrival of Windows 7 an important technology truth becomes obvious.

The mouse is dead. The touch era is here.

The touch era had been coming on little cat feet for years. Go to a restaurant and the waiter is going to use a touchscreen interface to place your order and prepare your check. At my YMCA we've long had a touchscreen hat lets me input my workouts so totals can be calculated.

Touchscreens moved from the business to consumer markets with the iPhone. Its screen sometimes drives me crazy -- it has a bad habit of calling people when it's in my pocket -- but there's no questioning its appeal. Thus Apple is moving its iPod to the same interface. It's more profitable.

But the news today is  Windows 7. For the first time, support for touch is built into the dominant operating system. Which means it will also be a standard offering in all PCs by this Christmas. And it will be supported in all major Windows applications by the end of the year.

This is a very big deal. The last time everyone's relation with their PC changed was when the mouse replaced the keyboard, 20 years ago. Now touch is finally replacing the mouse.

In medicine, this means doctors can have a cheap PC that works as well as their clipboard. Combine touch with handwriting recognition, put the forms on the screen, and there's no excuse for fighting Electronic Health Records (EHRs). No good excuse anyway.

The same will prove true across the board. Multi-touch is coming to Linux, sure as shooting, and to every cellphone, probably within a year. Who needs a mouse when you can touch the screen with a finger or a stylus? You don't.

Here is something else you probably hadn't thought about. The changing interface will change how we relate to our devices -- whether desktop or handheld. It's going to increase intimacy. Instead of leaning back with your keyboard and moving the mouse, you lean into the touch screen and press where you want to go.

This is going to change a lot more of your life than you know now. So think this weekend about the touch screens you know, about how you interact with them, and then consider that everything will be touch very, very soon.

Then, below, play amateur futurist with me.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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