When newspapers read you

It would appear that the physical world follows in the path of the cyber-world after all. Today’s actual paper copy of The New York Times had a version of that article about our multitouch interface research — the one the Times reported in its on-line BITS Blog on December 30. The version in the physical paper shows up near the end of today’s Business section, on page B6. It’s much shorter than the BITS version, and there are no pictures. Then again, the gorgeous color pictures in the on-line article — particular that first image of our transparent sensor — would not have shown up very well in the paper version. There is really something to be said for high quality LCD displays.

Soon enough these two media will find a happy medium, when the forthcoming slate computers start to hit the market. The buzz is that the Apple iSlate is showing up sometime in the next three months, at which point I suspect a lot of newspaper and magazine readers will start to switch over. It wasn’t so long ago that we all thought it a fantasy when the people in Harry Potter’s newspaper would come to life and wave to the reader. Now it’s about to happen for real, and I’ll bet the novelty will wear off very quickly.

Although it will be interesting to see whether the manufacturers of slate computers will really make use of those little cameras they are likely to embed in the bezel, using them to see what the reader is up to. Modern face tracking software is easily up to the task of figuring out whether you are looking at the screen, or even which general part of the screen you are reading.

For that matter, face tracking software can now tell who is looking at the screen of a slate computer. So if I put down my slate “newspaper” for a while, the slate should be able to go right back to wherever I was when I next pick it up, even if somebody else has picked up the same slate computer in the meantime to read something different. Maybe the slate can even monitor my facial expression, and show me some happy news when I look sad, or maybe just a good cartoon.

Or maybe it won’t be such a good thing when the newspaper you are reading can read you right back.

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