Why 3D Failed, and Why Touch Won’t

by Reads (2,451)

3DFor years, 3D was heralded as the ‘next big thing’ in personal computing. Aside from a few gamers and dedicated media enthusiasts, however, it hasn’t gotten very far. Now, touch screens being called out as the new ‘next big thing.’ This time, however, we think they’ve gotten it right.

Where 3D entered the home from the top down – from big-screened cinema through the television, touch is coming from the bottom up. Modern smartphones, with super responsive capacitive touchscreens have turned consumers on to touch.

This article is part of ‘To 3D or Not to 3D’, our 3D Special Report.

Those phones led to tablets, which in turn have convinced manufacturers to create touchscreen notebooks, all-in-ones, and monitors.

Dell S2340TThe new Dell S2340T multitouch monitor

It’s true that touchscreen notebooks and all-in-ones aren’t exactly new, but even the best selling among them – likely HP’s TouchSmart desktops and notebooks – never really succeeded on a mainstream level. The same could be said for 3D.

Touchscreens, however, have an ace in the hole that 3D never did – Windows 8. Windows 8 supports touch and multitouch in a fundamental way. It’s built into the very foundations of the new modern (formerly known as ‘Metro’) UI, and even has hooks into the traditional desktop.

As a result, touch in Windows?works. It just works. Finally. And again, as a result, touch can extend and enhance the user experience, in ways we haven’t before seen (have you *played* Wordament?). 3D, on the other hand, simply hasn’t.

3D makes movies seem a bit more immersive. For some games, it can seem a lot more immersive. Most just have it hacked on, however, and few titles – whether film, television, or video game – have been created from the ground up with 3D in mind. A lot of that has to do with cost. It’s simply too expensive.

Touch, on the other hand, isn’t expensive, not in the same way. Any game or application that uses a mouse can use touch, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of titles that have been engineered from the bottom up with touch in mind.

3D can’t compete with that.

The second problem with 3D is also cost – but this time, it’s the cost to the consumer. Enjoying 3D content isn’t cheap. It requires a special monitor capable of display 120 frames per second. It requires special glasses that can be a pricey acquisition all on their own. It also requires more powerful hardware, like newer GPUs. Since current 3D splits the display into two sets of every other frame, it effectively halves how smooth the game can look. If you want to play a game in 3D at 45 frames per second, for example, your card needs to be able to push it to 90 frames per second.

3DAn example of stereoscopic 3D, viewed through a pair of shutter glasses

Outside of a new display, touch doesn’t require any of that. It doesn’t generate any measurable performance hit to your system, and it doesn’t require any specialized glasses. And new capacitive screens mean that touch displays are faster and better than ever. Most new notebooks and all-in-ones shipping with Windows 8 support a full ten finger touch experience. It’s pretty great.

For the moment, cost is also a factor with these machines. Unlike with 3D, however, whose price has barely budged in the last 18 months, these touch displays will get cheaper and cheaper to build into systems as time goes on – thanks in no small part to the explosive growth in the mobile technology sector.

Already, however, the barrier to entry has been set pretty low. Machines like Sony’s unique Tap 20 start under a grand; you’d be hard pressed to find a 3D-capable all-in-one for that price. The same goes for the notebook segment, too, with touchscreen notebooks and Ultrabooks hitting the market at surprisingly affordable rates.

Touchscreen technology is absolutely the future of computing. Once you use it on a regular basis, it’s difficult to go back to a regular screen. You’ll find yourself impotently poking and jabbing the maddeningly dead display before you remember that it won’t respond. And companies such as Leap Motion are dedicated to adding the capability to any monitor, notebook, or desktop, regardless of whether it shipped that way.

3D, at least in the computer realm, isn’t going anywhere, but it’s not growing, either. In some distant future, once the technology is cheap and available, it’ll come back. But that future is a long way off. Touch is here now, and it’ll be everywhere, soon. And if how fun the first crop of Windows 8 applications are, that’s a good thing.

3D


Want to know more about the state of 3D? Be sure to check out additional reviews and articles in our  3D Special Report!

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