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At Your Fingertips
By Amanda C. Kooser
Do you wish you could interact with your computer the same way you do with your iPhone? As their sophistication and practicality increase, touchscreens are getting closer to becoming mainstream.
The iPhone's multitouch screen lets you use two finger gestures to do tasks like zooming in on a web page. Now more cell phones, tablet PCs, GPS devices and laptop touch pads are jumping into the arena. "The craze is because of the iPhone, but development has been going on in this area for years and years," says Leigh Marriner, consulting practice director at strategic and innovation consulting firm Cheskin Added Value.
The mainstreaming of touchscreens will have a lot to do with what applications are available to take advantage of their capabilities. Marriner sees design-oriented fields as early adopters of larger, more advanced touchscreens. "It could make collaboration much easier," she says.
To see where the technology is headed, check out the Microsoft Surface project. This big tabletop touchscreen PC can respond to hand gestures from multiple people and interact with objects that are set on it. The upcoming Windows 7 OS is due to include a multitouch interface. The OS is expected around late 2009 and could bring a big boost to the popularity of touchscreens in everyday computing.
"There are a lot of things that aren't natural about the way that we're required to deal with computers now," says Marriner. "The potential of a touchscreen is that it's a more natural interface for relating to a computer." She sees touchscreen developments over the next few years coming in screen size, pressure sensitivity, accuracy and more advanced multitouch capabilities. If you can't wait for your wall-size touchscreen, you can look into current devices like the iPhone, phones from HTC, LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, or tablet PCs by manu-facturers like Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Toshiba. Smartphone maker Research In Motion is also rumored to have a touchscreen version of the popular BlackBerry due out on Verizon later this year.
By Julie Moline
It's now easier for rental car drivers to use electronic toll payment systems. Avis and Budget have recently added the eToll option in Colorado, Florida and Puerto Rico, which join Houston, metro Chicago and the Northeastern states (from Maine to Virginia). Toll charges and a $1.50 daily fee apply.
Hertz has expanded its PlatePass system, which launched in Houston and the New York City metro area, and now includes Atlantic City, New Jersey, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Customers pay $2.50 per day up to a maximum of $10 a week, but are only charged for days that an EZ Pass toll road is actually used.
Dollar Thrifty's prepaid Pass24 toll service, which began in Dallas and Houston, is now available at Dollar Rent A Car and Thrifty Car Rental's metropolitan Denver locations. The service charges a flat rate of $8.95 a day for all toll charges.
Julie Moline is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant in New York City.