It was many years ago at CES that Dave and I both found ourselves enthralled by HP’s coffee-table-sized touchscreen on display at one of the many press events. There’s something visceral about the feeling of moving and shifting digital objects on a table, and it’s very different from the feeling you get when manipulating a tablet. With a tablet, the movements are mostly in your thumbs and index fingers. With a digital table, your gestures are broad and sweeping.
Of course, where HP (and Microsoft, and others) failed with its touchable table, Apple has soared to unimaginable success with the iPad and its successors. ln fact, we’ve been so caught up in the tablet market that little effort’s been expended on bringing touch-control to larger screens. (Motion-controlled TV interfaces are a different matter entirely.) The one big exception I know of is the Lenovo Horizon Multimode Table PC. Lenovo showed off its Horizon product at CES 2013, but given how little I’ve heard about it since then, I was shocked to discover the Table PC is actually available for sale. You can make it your own for only $979.
Now into the void steps Westinghouse. With a slight twist on the tabletop idea, Westinghouse is introducing a new interactive whiteboard for CES 2014. It’s a large tablet turned on its side, and it comes in 55″, 65″, 70″ and 84″ screen-size varieties. (The 84″ version supports 4K video.) According to the YouTube demo, the new product operates like a standard tablet running Window 8, but it includes a whiteboard mode with text recognition, annotative capabilities that work even on video, and a six-point IR touch system. We don’t know anything yet about pricing or availability, but Westinghouse is advertising the product for education and commercial audiences, which suggests nothing good for the consumer market.
My question is, why haven’t these bigger tablets been popularized yet? Why can’t I annotate sport videos on a large screen? Why can’t I use a six-point touch interface to explore weather maps in my living room? Why can’t my coffee table be a digital scratch pad that lets me illustrate math problems for my daughter? It seems like an obvious advancement, and certainly something popular culture has had in its sights since the debut of Minority Report. Why aren’t we there yet? Do we have to wait for Apple to make it real? Or can another company create that market?
I’m hoping for more signs of life at CES next week, but I’m not optimistic for 2014. Maybe by 2015 we’ll be ready for a bigger tablet. Here’s hoping.