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January 9th, 2007


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06:05 pm - iPhone and Fingerworks
You've probably heard by now (or will be hearing soon) about the new iPhone announcement from Apple. I want to take this entry to share a story which some people might find interesting (or not).

OK so. I went to school at the University of Delaware. There was a professor there named Dr. Elias. He taught my intro circuits course (Resistors, Voltages, Currents, Caps, RLC Circuits, etc) sophomore year. However, his main purpose at the university (like 99% of university professors) wasn't to teach, but for research. Him and another professor had a project called "Fingerworks" which was a touchpad technology.

Fingerworks was pretty cool. It was a large touchpad with a keyboard printed on it. You could type by touching the keys. You could move a mouse by placing your finger on the pad and move it (just like a normal touchpad). However, Fingerworks also did something else. It had special software that would recognize all 10 fingers of a human hand, so if you touched the pad with one or more fingers, it would recognize which fingers were where on the pad. From here, it evolved into "gesture" sensing where certain hand/finger combinations and movements could be programmed as commands. The only ones I can really remember was that placing 4 fingers down and "twisting" to the left would cause an Open File dialog to appear (like opening a jar by twisting left). Similarly, twisting right would close the currently selected object/window. There was a whole slew of hand motions that made handling documents easier (zoom in/out by spreading/contracting fingers, ways to scrolls left/right/up/down, etc).

They used to have a demo station where you could put your hands on the pad, and the screen would show you which fingers were there. You also couldn't trick it by putting your hand down in a weird angle, or criss-crossing fingers. It still knew which fingers were on the pad, where, and how they were moving.

My senior year at Delaware, Dr. Elias and the other professor got a multi-million dollar signing bonus for Fingerworks... from Apple. They disappeared from the University, and took everything Fingerworks with them. I thought, what on earth would Apple (who was known back then only for making Mac Computers, iPod barely existed) want to do with motion and gesture sensing touchpad technology?

Now, iPhone has been announced with "gesture sensing" technology on a full-size touch screen. Sound familiar? I just thought it was kind of interesting how it might relate to Apples purchase of Fingerworks roughly 2 years ago.

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:draxyl
Date:January 9th, 2007 11:30 pm (UTC)
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Small world - my friend Jared knew that same prof, and did some TA work for him. This would have been somewhere around 2000-2001 timeframe. I remember him telling me all about this cool keyboard, but I think he left before the profs must've went over to Apple.
[User Picture]
From:tacrozar
Date:January 10th, 2007 05:35 am (UTC)
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Wow thats pretty neat.
[User Picture]
From:rhysdigital
Date:January 10th, 2007 05:44 am (UTC)
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Wow, that's pretty interesting to hear about actually. More amazing is Apple's foresight/planning? about that part of the phone.
[User Picture]
From:corwynn
Date:January 10th, 2007 10:11 am (UTC)
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That's pretty cool stuff. I was actually at Macworld today as they announced it, but there were so many people around the two iPhones they had on display on the show floor.. I couldn't get very close. And the apple "pavillion" was very very packed. Didn't really get much info on the iPhone. I am, however, very interested in AppleTV. But that's just me, I suppose.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 10th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC)

Bring back FingerWorks!

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I've been using a FingerWorks TouchStream keyboard for a few years now. The TouchStream user community was devastated when FingerWorks was acquired and shut down without warning. There's a lot of ill will toward Apple as a result.

I really, really hope Apple brings back some form of the TouchStream. At one point, you could buy a "MacNTouch" drop-in replacement gestural keyboard for the early PowerBook G4s. I'd *love* to see (say) a MacBook with a 5"x11" multitouch pad/screen replacing the keyboard! I'd trade my current MacBook and a big chunk of additional change for that.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 11th, 2007 04:55 am (UTC)

Re: Bring back FingerWorks!

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I've also a been Fingerworks user for close to 5 years. I'm typing this on a Touchstream (Dvorak), wich I've gotten very used to. The iPhone is really cool, but I dislike how Apple (and numerous other large companies) take other people's work and brand it as their own without giving credit where it is due.

I too hope that standalone multitouch keyboards do return. I will be very disappointed if Apple comes out with only Mac-compatible multitouch keyboards. (I'm a Linux user, former Mac user)
From:ext_3289
Date:February 19th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Bring back FingerWorks!

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> take other people's work and brand it as their own without giving credit where it is due.

You know, credit doesn't mean anything. Money does. I'm sure the developers (Westerman and Elias) were given enough funding to make up for the lack of credit.

I just hope that Apple bring back the Touchstream-style keyboard, or does something else as nifty with the technology. While the iPhone is a neat application of Westerman's and Elias' technology, it just doesn't compare to the power and flexibility of the Touchstream keyboard.

It's a pity that the original Touchstream (originally $290) now goes on eBay for $800+...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 7th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Bring back FingerWorks!

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Alas, alas, my fantastic TouchStream just broke today (left part no longer sends any signal...), so I have to get back to RSI and torture instruments called mouse and keyboard. I really hope Apple will resurect the TouchStream or something alike, but I really doubt they will, they just needed it for the iPhone, they don't care for "the rest of us"...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 2nd, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Bring back FingerWorks!

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Ill will towards Apple?

Umm... it wasn't Apple that screwed over the user base, it was those two "professors/businessmen" that used public funds in order to create a "company" that was only interested in the technology, not in running a company producing consumer goods. Goods that were paid for in exchange for product guarantees from this alleged company. Guarantees that were not met, as the expense of actually providing support was something this "company" could NOT handle.

Let's see, after 3 months of daily usage, my middle cable broke. Their Answer? Don't use the keyboard as we recommended. We will give you a brand new keyboard though, alleges the finally answered (after a month) email from tech support. Did I get a new keyboard (not that I needed one)? Hell no! I never even got anymore replies from tech support, up until I get the wonderful email offering to buy it back for pennies on the dollar, which of course was NOT what the new product warranty stated.

Like I said, Fingerworks was not truly a company, but just another way to get free R&D while keeping government paycheck for those two daring "entrepreneurs." It seems they were willing to risk absolutely nothing for this venture other than public funds and my money.

Whether intentional or not, these two men are both thieving con-artists.

Oh, my solution? Why I had to buy a bunch of extra cables from their supplier, break the damn thing apart (it is held together with super glue), and replace the cable myself.

The technology may be cool, but Fingerworks was nothing but a scam. For some reason though, people choose to blame Apple instead of those truly responsible.
From:journalreporter
Date:January 15th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)

News Journal Reporter with a question

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Greetings, faranim -- my name is Eric Ruth, and I'm a reporter at The News Journal in Wilmington. I'm putting together a story on the Apple/Elia & Westerman connection, and wondered if you lend me some help. Basically, I'm hoping to interview a few students who were there when the Fingerworks technology was being developed/shown, just to get their impressions on how impressive it was, etc. Basically, I'm looking for the same kind of information you have posted here. Can I call you, or could you call me at 302 324-2428?

Thanks!

Eric
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 22nd, 2007 07:51 am (UTC)

check this out

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http://fastcompany.com/video/general/perceptivepixel.html

just ran accross this. very interesting.
seems like ppl other than apple and fingerworks were working on this same sort of idea. i wonder if apple's 'patent apps' will generate some lawsuits in the future...

Nebkhau/Asura (not registered with livejournal)

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