The nextstep in user-friendliness for the iMac

Lloyd Wood (
Mon, 18 Oct 1999 00:35:09 +0100 (BST)

Consider this idea for the public domain. First, the necessary
conditions and background:

1. Apple has never produced a Macintosh with a touch-sensitive screen.
(okay, so Apple produced the touch-sensitive Newton, which has been
purged from the company history in an ironically Orwellian manner.
1984 may not have been like 1984, but 1997 certainly was; Orwell
certainly understood the dangers of reality distortion fields.)

2. Large liquid-crystal diode displays are expensive and in short
supply; large touch-sensitive LCD displays moreso, as they're
harder to engineer. We're not going to see full-size laptops with
touch-sensitive displays anytime soon, and if we did, all that
would happen is a lot of wear on the hinge (Windows CE machines
don't matter here, because, somewhat like the Newton, no-one uses
those either.) Apple is unlikely to produce a touch-sensitive
powerbook screen anytime soon.

3. The iMac has an integrated cathode ray tube with software control
of resolution, brightness and contrast. When you have an iMac, you
have a very good idea what monitor you're likely to be dealing
with. And that monitor also has a very high refresh rate.
Apple has good CRT monitors with little variation and good control
of them, and is selling a lot of them in a standard package.

4. Digital signal processing is a lot cheaper and easier than it used
to be; witness Microsoft's Intellimouse, which - shock, horror -
works on almost anything thanks to some signal processing.
The iMac has popularised the universal serial bus; getting
information to the iMac rapidly via USB makes DSP a software
problem for the iMac's G3.

5. Buttons were meant to be pushed; it's human nature. The Macintosh
interface is point-and-click simplicity; you do a lot with the
single finger of a single hand. Haven't you always wanted just
to _push_ 'Okay' even when the only thing you could push on a Mac
was the reset button?

6. Light-pen technology, using a sensitive diode to sense the passage
of the scanning electron beam of a CRT, is old hat. It's so old hat
that you might remember the time in the 1980s when crude lightpens
plugging into Atari 9-pin DIN joystick ports were briefly the rage,
or you might have come across them in CAD applications on dedicated
terminals. Light pens are used in specialist applications, but
have never really gone mass-market, because calibration and setup
for varying PC monitors and resolutions is such a pain:

So, The Bright Idea: Apple can build lightpen functionality into a
diode in the tip of a finger of a glove for CRT users. Give that glove
a USB port. Hook it to an iMac via a fashionably slim USB cable. Sell
millions of gloves to iMac users.

This is straightforward to implement today, giving you an easy-to-use
touch-sensitive CRT for far far less than the cost of a
touch-sensitive LCD. It's where CRTs still have an edge.

All the DSP can be done onboard the iMac; you just need enough
hardware and firmware to pulse packets down the USB bus whenever the
beam is detected - packets which also indicate the state of a
microswitch that is also embedded in the tip of the finger.

Tracking the cursor position and determining clicks from that is just
a software problem - and solving hardware problems in software is what
Apple used to be good at, back before Apple got stuck on solving
software problems in software and changing the OS strategy every five

Given the software control, high refresh rates and minimal variation
of the iMac CRTs, pinpoint location of the finger should be
straightforward; calibration should be minimal. And the 'natural'
point and click metaphor should be ideal for the iMac's target market;
you can market the gloves in a range of thrilling colours or designs
for specialist applications (a 7 of 9 Borg glove for a 'Star Trek'
game, for example.) You could add other microswitches on the other
fingers for gestural modifiers - middle finger against palm means
shift-click, for instance - but they're not strictly necessary.

As well as being the nextstep in userfriendliness for the iMac, this
is a thrilling out-of-this-world idea harking to popular cultural
icons in the entertainment industry; the tacky glowing multi-function
finger of 70s moviestar ET is coupled with the famously tacky single
glove of 80s superstar Michael Jackson, in an implementation for the
tacky 90s blue and white industrial design of the plasticky iMac. This
idea may be off the wall, but you can't beat it. The glove even stops
you smearing the screen with palm oil.

The iMac. The computer that fits you like a glove; it's not a piece of
furniture, but part of your wardrobe. You'll never grumble about that
icky iMac mouse again, because you'll be too busy complaining that the
iMac glove is too small for your hand.


boy, I really have my finger on the pulse of display technology.
That's why I've spent several years trying to find someone to sell my
original MessagePad to.