Digital tabletops are now commercially available and one of the questions of interest to researchers is whether these will replace conventional desks in the office of the future. While many studies have been carried out on the use of digital tabletops in collaborative scenarios, relatively little has been done on the potential uses of them for carrying out the kinds of daily tasks typically performed by individual knowledge workers at their desks. We have been particularly interested in exploring the use of digital tabletops with simultaneous bimanual pen and multitouch capabilities for document engineering tasks.
We first looked at active reading tasks that involved actions such as underlining, highlighting or annotating elements as well as browsing and searching the document. We developed an active reading application on a platform that combined a DiamondTouch table and an overlay with Anoto pattern printed on it that could be detected by a digital pen to achieve our combined pen and touch interface. We carried out a study designed to compare the suitability of our setup for three typical tasks against the use of paper media and Adobe Acrobat on a desktop PC. The results were promising showing that pen and touch tabletops can successfully combine the advantages of paper and digital devices while overcoming many of the disadvantages.
We then went on to develop an application for authoring and editing presentations where we explored the feasibility of realising common document-editing operations mostly via gestural shortcuts rather than WIMP-based transactions. A particular feature was to systematize the use of the non-dominant hand to define different local and global pen modes through modifier postures, which we relate to modifier keys of a keyboard. Similar to keyboard shortcuts, we were targeting expert rather than novice users with the intention that these could be learned over time, gradually replacing traditional WIMP controls. A lab study confirmed the potential of this approach but also provide insights into the practical challenges of its implementation.