SimpleTap Touch Technology

Last month, Lenovo human factors engineer Aaron Stewart guest blogged about the new Lenovo SimpleTap interface over on Design Matters, and even demonstrated the features on both an X200 tablet and our new T400s touch enabled ThinkPads on Youtube. Today, I caught up with SimpleTap product manager Lee Highsmith who took time to share his thoughts on this new capability and the growing pervasiveness of touch interfaces.

Mark:   So Lee, tell us about your role as product manager and how long you've been involved with SimpleTap...

Lee:  I've had the opportunity to work on the Worldwide ThinkVantage Technologies team since 2001, and over that time, I've had the chance to manage almost all of our tools.  Today, I own several products from a strategy and marketing perspective, and work every day to make our tools better and get the word out to our customers.  My present responsibilities span Rescue and Recovery, Access Connections, Power Manager and, most recently, SimpleTap. We tend to get some  of our best ideas from listening to our customers, so I'm excited that the Lenovo Forums will give us one more way to hear great input! (Visit the new SimpleTap discussion board)

Mark:   Do you credit the latest generation of smart, touch enabled phones with helping to create mainstream awareness and interest in this type of technology?

Lee:   Certainly the latest generation of touch-centric smartphones have created a lot of comfort and familiarity with touch, but there are so many devices today that use touch - look at GPS, cameras, printers, ATM's,  and even the pumps at your local gas station!   Working on this project has really made me aware of how much people want to touch screens - look at the screen on your PC, and I'd guess there are fingerprints.  While traveling, I've observed people at hotels and airports trying to use regular screens as if they are touchscreens - I think it is a very natural way to use technology.

Mark:    I guess we are getting pretty accustomed to touch screens around us, but many of those devices worked fine with buttons instead of touch for many years.  Is touch that much better, or is it just cool technology?    What do you see as practical uses for this on a tablet or other touch enabled PC?

Lee:   I think SimpleTap has a lot of value. It is most apparent on a tablet when you're in "tablet mode" with the screen covering the keyboard. At that point, tasks that can be pretty simple like locking the PC or adjusting the screen brightness are suddenly a lot less easy. SimpleTap gives the user a way to easily and naturally manage tasks without having to open the tablet to get access to the keyboard, so it really goes a little beyond convenience and really helps the user stay in tablet mode and stay productive.

Mark:  Ok, I can see that on the tablet.  What about touch on the T400s?  Touch on a standard laptop?

Lee:   On the T400s, I think the more general benefits of SimpleTap show up. There are still a lot of tasks that aren't touch-optimized in the operating system that are made easy with SimpleTap, such as volume adjustment, locking the PC or even disabling wireless radios. In addition, we've added features in SimpleTap that extend the VOIP (Voice Over IP) experience as well. If you've ever been on a VOIP call with video, you may have noticed a lot of people spend the first few seconds adjusting their screens or moving things out of view. SimpleTap provides a quick way to preview what the camera will see, and even allows you to "mute" the camera with a touch.

Mark:  How does this work?  I've heard SimpleTap described as living in it's own "layer" on the screen...

Lee:  SimpleTap can be invoked by a two-finger double tap of the screen. This will bring up the SimpleTap layer, which won't interfere with anything on the Windows desktop. We didn't want to require the user to minimize windows or anything else that took them out of the flow of what they were doing. Users will also notice the optional red circle "docked" on one edge of the screen, which can be touched or clicked to launch SimpleTap as well. Once SimpleTap is up, you'll notice a number of buttons we call "tiles" each of which allows you to control a feature or launch something. Users can create their own tiles to launch a program, a website or even a particular file. We made SimpleTap to put a little "fun" in functional. Users can "flick" the tiles and they'll bounce off each other, or if you put them on top of each other, they make room. We wanted it all to feel a little organic.

Mark:   Which Lenovo models is this supported on? Can I use it on older touch tablets like X200's sold earlier this year? How about X60 or X61 models?

Lee:   Currently, SimpleTap is offered as for download and use on the latest X200 tablet and T400s models with the multitouch screens and running Windows 7. It is not supported on other hardware at this time. It will be preloaded on a number of systems announced early next year.

Mark:   Where do you see this technology headed?

Lee:    I think we'll see a lot of feedback from our users and corporate customers on where to take it, and we've already seen some interesting directions to go. Expect to see more next year!

Thanks Lee!  Look for some practical "how to" demonstration videos later this week on the SimpleTap discussion board in the forum. We'd love to hear your feedback on these new features, how they create a richer Windows 7 user experience, and how you think you might use them. Lee plans to join the discussion in the forum and may be available to respond to relevant comments left here as well.
UPDATE 10/22 - SimpleTap is now available for download