Multitouch in 2014
Ever since the first multitouch table became available in the Netherlands, Doklab has developed applications that make it possible to show and share interesting content. In view of our ambition to connect people to stories and collections, multitouch has proven to be a wonderful solution. Yet in recent years, many libraries that had bought a table and a set of applications have run into problems. During our Extreme Library Makeovers we noticed that multitouch tables were not always being used, and were switched off. How is the situation now and what are the right ways to make good use of the tables and the software?
The price of multitouch tables and screens has dropped considerably over recent years, and that makes them more interesting to more institutions. Compared to the first ‘Microsoft Surface’ table that was launched about 5 years ago the tables are now definitely half the price they were, while the size of the screen has grown. Also, the technology has become much better. For example, the SUR40 table used to work not so well in rooms with too much light. This problem is solved and new models work much better now.
In the past few years we have done a lot of research on multitouch applications and on how to develop good applications, and on how you can put the tables and screens to good use. We would like to share the results of this research with you, and give you a few helpful tips:
Use multitouch for a specific purpose
Use the multitouch tables for a specific purpose: it is a waste of money, time and effort to only use the multitouch screen as a glorified chess game. Multitouch is a technology that allows visitors to browse through a story or collection together and, if so desired, add to the stories. Provide relevant content, put special collections in the spotlight, opt for multimedia and interactive solutions and ensure that there is always interesting and surprising content, which preferably is updated regularly.
We have noticed that it works much better to show one application on the table at a time. Of course you can have multiple applications on the table, but choose to change them once a month instead of letting visitors decide what application is shown. This makes it a lot clearer to the visitors what they can do with multitouch technology. It is also easier to organize marketing communications with regard to the table and its content or to connect the application to relevant items of the collection.
Easily accessible for staff and customers
It is even more important to involve staff in the use of the application: they are the representatives of the services. It is for a good reason that we always try to involve staff early in the development process of the application. It is a shame when not all the great features of the developed applications are used because they are not understood by the staff. No wonder sometimes the tables are switched off. Our aim is to make the management of the applications as easy as possible . We do not use USB sticks to fill the table with new content, but let staff do this remotely from their own computer. By providing a system that makes the adding of stories as easy and fun as possible we think people will surely do this more often.
The distinction between multitouch tables and multitouch ‘screens ‘ or walls is something that we sometimes get questions about. When do you choose for a table and when for a screen? In the most cases we chose for a table solution. A table setup allows people to stand around a ‘collection’ or ‘story’. Nothing is as beautiful as the story of two library users that do not know each other and who browse together through a collection of archival photos and tell each other stories of the past. Of course, such a table setup creates great expectations for an application. The content shown on the table must naturally be well visible on both sides of the screen.
A hanging or standing screen is much more a ‘presentation’ screen. These screens are less inviting to touch and if anyone stands in front of the screen, it is less likely that someone else will come along to look over their shoulder. Exceptions are of course the big 2×2 or 4×3 touch screens that cover entire walls.
We think that multitouch is going to play an important role in the libraries and museums of the future. It is important to find a bridge between the physical world and the digital world, in which thousands of interesting collections can be found. By putting such a collection in a sort of shopping window in a visually attractive, interactive and easy to use manner this collection will ultimately be viewed much more. In retail we see that more and more stores are offering larger collections online than they have in their store. On large touch screens people can browse through the collection and even try the clothes on digitally in front of the screen.
In short, the use of multi-touch technology is only just out of its infancy. After perhaps having made a false start, this technology will prove to be a powerful tool in our ‘attention economy’ to draw the attention of the people and to show them stunning digital pearls.