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August 13th, 1999

The iMac With iTouch, Taking The Mac Into New Markets

iMac With iTouch
Contact and Other Information
Manufacturer: Elo TouchSystems
Description: Touch Screen iMac Solution
Address: Elo TouchSystems, Inc.
6500 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, CA 94555
Price: Contact Elo TouchSystems
Telephone: 1.800.ELO.TOUCH
Fax: 1.650-361-5579
Requirements iMac With iTouch
System Used For Testing iMac 266 Mhz factory equipped with iTouch
By Bryan Chaffin and Dave Hamilton

The iMac iTouch touch screen system from Elo TouchSystems is one of the most exciting developments in the Mac world. Period. There is more to this than being able to do a blur by smudging your finger across the screen in that Photoshop image you have been working on, the iMac iTouch is all about taking the Mac into entirely new worlds. Those worlds include kiosks (dominated by PCs and proprietary operating systems), POS (Point Of Sale, also dominated by PCs and proprietary OSs), educational learning software, manufacturing control, library systems, etc. These are vast new arenas for the Mac and the iTouch system from Elo TouchSystems is the vehicle to get there.

How it works

As far as the screen itself, we are still amazed after having used the iMac iTouch for many weeks. It's so clear... nothing is etched into it, and there's no blurry "screen" over the front of it.

The beauty of this touch screen is that it is no overlay used to achieve the ability to touch the screen. It literally is the original iMac monitor screen that has been altered by Elo TouchSystems. That is how they preserve the clarity that so many touch screens lose -- it is just the normal glass that is on every iMac. The cool thing is the way it senses touch -- there are transducers connected directly to the glass that send ultrasonic waves THROUGH the glass to a receiving transducer. This receiving transducer takes the ultrasonic wave, converts it back to electricity, and sends it to a processor that creates a screen image. When you touch the screen, your touch disrupts these waves very slightly (by absorbing them), and that's how it senses the location of your finger on the screen. Then the processor converts this to on-screen coordinates and tells the operating system where you touched (giving it X and Y coordinates). Depending on how MUCH the wave is disrupted (i.e. how hard you pushed), the sensors also calculate a "Z-axis" that reports pressure sensitivity of the screen. This is perfect for a lot of things, including a "warning, you're pressing too hard" message.

Whatever Elo TouchSystems has done, they've done it right. And because it uses USB, it makes things that much simpler to use. Just write your app for a mouse, but consider the use of fingers, and it works with the touchscreen.

Using the TouchScreen

We found the touchscreen clumsy for Finder operations. These require VERY accurate motion, and the touchscren just didn't keep up. Or at least that's what we thought at first. When we watched each other using it, looking down at our fingers on the screen, it turns out, the touch screen is VERY accurate, and the mouse pointer went RIGHT where we were hitting.

The accuracy problem is not with the iTouch system, it's with our fingers. We found that we were consistently hitting the screen lower than what we thought. We also found that we became more accurate the longer we used it. Once again though, the iTouch system is not really designed for Finder operations, or for making that smudge in Photoshop that we mentioned. It's designed for use with software that has been made to use with a touch screen.

When we tried out some applications that are designed for a touchscreen from Mile High Media, including their "build to order" system built for Mercedez-Benz. There is nothing like being able to pick your Mercedez by touching options on an iMac. This software is essentially exactly what a perfect Kiosk system should be. It worked and touching the screen was accurate bceause the software was designed for fingers. A bit of finger innacuracy becomes a moot point when the system is designed with this in mind. Coupled with the attractiveness of an iMac it is clear that this will be a successful Kiosk approach.

The only problem we experienced was that the iTouch software would sometimes (rarely) not work at boot-up and we had restart the iMac. Our review unit was a prototype and Elo TouchSystems has assured us that this problem has been fixed. Judging from the tiome we spent in Elo's booth at MACWORLD Expo New York last month, this appears to be correct.

Dave's Kiosk Thoughts
When designing kiosks in a past life, one of the biggest problems that we encountered was getting a machine with enough chutzpah to run inside an enclosed kiosk without burning up. We were using PowerMac 8100's at the time, but the problems we encountered would still plague just about any desktop computer made today. The only thing we wanted on top of the kiosk display was the monitor and so we had to put the CPU inside the display. Not only did we have trouble actually FITTING a computer inside the kiosks, we had major heat-dissipation issues to deal with as well. An entire redesign and 3 cooling fans later, and we were good to go! With the iMac, of course, things are different, and adding a touch screen to it makes it even better. Put your app in the startup items folder and you don't even need to EVER plug-in the keyboard or mouse. No heat problems because everything's exposed and runs like an iMac should. Add that to the fact that you don't have to have a locking cabinet underneath every kiosk you build and the iMac iTouch represents a major cost savings. If I could go back in time to my kiosk-building days, I would take the eloTouch iMac with me.

For Kiosk apps, the iMac iTouch is a dream-come-true. Kiosk stands need to be attractive in order to attract people. They also have to be easy to use and reliable as all get out. Those Mac users who have spent any time on a Windows machine already know how reliable they are. Simplicity in set-up and maintenance is also imperative. As we note in the Sidebar on Kiosks, putting the Kiosk application into the start-up folder means that an iMac iTouch wouldn't even need a keyboard or mouse. Thanks to the USB ports, if one is required, a technician can simply plug them in when needed. The iTouch meets all of these requirements and represents a great opportunity for Elo TouchSystems, Apple, and Kiosk vendors as well.

Kids and Learning Software

Think Kids and Games. A potentially great application for a touch screen iMac is educational software aimed at young children. While parents may not necessarily be the target market here, schools and libraries are. Kids, especially young kids, can be taught relational concepts and other learning activities with applications designed to be touched. This is a powerful concept that we think will offer educators a great tool in working with children. In addition, using a touch screen would make it possible for many school labs or classes to remove a keyboard and/or the mouse which is one less thing to break, get lost, or even stolen. This is not possible without a wealth of software that does not yet exist, but the opportunity for developers is now here. The possibilities are endless.

POS or Point of Sale

POS applications are particularly meaningful with this system. A POS system is an order taking or cash register system, and this rather large industry is completely dominated by PCs or Intel based proprietary systems, though there is one POS Mac software package that we know of as well as many other custom FileMaker Pro solutions. Other than that, this market is dominated by non-MAc solutions. The iMac iTouch could make the difference in bringing the Mac increasingly into this lucrative field. With the stability of the Mac and ease of use of the iMac, POS vendors could make a killing by upgrading existing systems and introducing new systems with the iMac. This represents a huge opportunity to Elo Touch Systems, Apple, and POS vendors.

Manufacturing control

There are many manufacturing facilities that are computer controlled, and these are once again largely dominated by either Windows NT or Unix based systems (for a great story on how a consultant replaced 26 NT stations with four 68k Macs, check out Macs vs. Y2K from Low End Mac). With the right software, touch screen iMacs could make a huge dent in this market. There is literally enormous room for growth for Apple in this industry as Macs have almost no presence. When computer control systems go down or crash, it can cost companies millions of dollars. A stable touch screen Mac-based system would pay for itself the first time it didn't crash or was easy to bring back up if it did crash. That would prove invaluable to the industry and could make Macs the dominant force for control systems.

The Bottom Line

We have mentioned this throughout our review, but iTouch represents an opportunity for Apple, Elo, developers, and companies alike. For Apple, they have the opportunity to break into a market almost entirely excluded to them now. This is a real profit making opportunity that has the added bonus of advertising the iMac itself. The POS, educational, manufacturing control, and other potential markets represent the same sort of opportunity.

Elo's iTouch technology makes it possible with precision and the lack of fuzziness so often associated with touch screen systems. It really has to be seen and tried to believe.

Final Score (Maximum score is 5 Gadgies)
5 Gadgies*
Pros Reliable, accurate, and a clear screen make the iTouch as close to perfect as it can be.
Cons There are no cons.

*This marks the first time we have given a product 5 Gadgies. Congratulations to Elo TouchSystems!

Elo TouchSystems

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