After popularising the keyboard-and-mouse combination with the Mac and later the trackerball and touchpad on laptops, it seems that the iPhone's multitouch display is set to kick off another change in the way we interact with computers.
The BBC is reporting that multitouch-based interactive screens are proving a hit after Durham University tested classroom interactions and found them to offer "fantastic scope for more participative teaching and learning". It is also hoped that touchscreens will give girls and disabled children more learning time and (reading between the lines) prevent feistier boys from hogging the limelight and the attention span of teachers.
Well, three cheers to all that. The time for touchscreens to go mainstream is long overdue but it is coming. A recent Business Objects presentation to business intelligence experts wowed the audience by making dials, dashboards and gauges more attractive to use than was ever the case on a laptop. Microsoft's Surface PC is edging into hotel lobbies and lounges. The iPhone is the great hit of the year in technology and has been followed by a mob of clones. Windows 7 is highly likely to have multitouch as an integral feature and with UI capabilities tweaked to suit them.
In learning environments, for presentations and for entertainment we have been living in the old world for too long. The ability to roll, pinch and broaden images, to control movement and to speed up and slow down is compelling. It makes us more involved and helps us visualise complex data.
It is not as if touchscreens are new. They've been around forever on ticketing terminals and interactive displays such as those in the National Gallery's micro-gallery of art. Touchscreen technology needn't be expensive either so watch for it to come to seminar rooms, conferencing facilities and even the desktop in the next few years.