Thursday, 5 September 2013

Interactive whiteboards + Windows 8 multi-touch

The situation has changed for interactive whiteboards in the past 18 months.
 
Interactive whiteboards (such as Promethean or Smart) are a simple combination of a digitizer area than supports touch/pen input plus a projector (typically) that can overlay an image onto the same area. The whiteboard is always connected to a PC, with the digitizer connecting via a standard USB interface and the projector (or display screen) connecting via the standard video interface (i.e. VGA, DVI or HDMI).
 
Basic interactive whiteboard
Previously, the basic assumption was that the PC would be dedicated to running software provided by the interactive whiteboard vendor, which is dominated by the needs of K-12 education.

The new situation is that Windows 8 (and Android, and iOS) has come along with it's native support for multi-touch, so the interactive whiteboard vendors are necessarily re-configuring their systems so the digitizer surface becomes a generic Windows 8 touch/pen input device. This opens up many more possibilities for the use of the interactive whiteboard outside of the classroom.

User interaction
It is a new experience to see the Windows desktop on the whiteboard and be able to scroll around with swipes. As with tablets, the previous windows/scrollbars/keyboard metaphor was a poor fit for whiteboards.

Essentially, the interactive whiteboard vendors are moving more into the space of large-PC-touchscreen suppliers, so we'll see how this evolves. From a hardware standpoint there will be more alternatives, and Promethean have announced their strategic intention to focus on the software used in teaching (presumably rather than the hardware).

Of course LCD displays will replace projectors
From a hardware standpoint, the large-format digitizers are impressive (e.g. see the G4S multi-touch overlay) supporting capacitive multi-touch with high resolution and rapid responsiveness. But the current use of projectors for the display is laughably inadequate, with a typical resolution around 1024x768. So for office use (where the users can be expected to be closer than in a classroom) it can be assumed new, large, high resolution displays will be preferred - the price is rapidly falling for, e.g., 65" Ultra HD displays - already less than $5,000.

Generic software capabilities will continue to evolve
In an office setting, there are at least two scenarios where you want software beyond the current basic capabilities of Windows 8 (even if the application you are using is Microsoft Powerpoint).
  1. You can expect your users to have tablets in front of them in the meeting room (many do already) and they should not have to leave their chair to annotate the whiteboard, or even simply page forward in the presentation. They should not need to have their tablet hard-wired to the whiteboard...
  2. Whiteboard software is not currently designed to support  remote users (i.e. people in another room). Remote collaboration software is very immature relative to the use of touch-enabled devices (e.g. Adobe Connect or WebEx), but the use of products such as these in the whiteboard environment described above shows real promise.

With a table digitizer


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