SAN FRANCISCO (01/24/2000) - The iMac's sleek curves and inviting nature make it ideal for use in an interactive kiosk. Kiosks work best, though, when you can make your selections by touching the screen. Installing a touch screen can be a challenge, but several companies will sell you iMacs preconfigured with touch capability. Macworld looked at two of these systems: Elo TouchSystems Inc.'s iTouch and MicroTouch Systems Inc.'s TouchStation. Although they use different technologies, both products work well, allowing you to make selections without unduly distorting the display.
The $1,599 iTouch comes installed on a 333MHz iMac; Elo plans to offer a $1,685 version with the new 350MHz iMac by the time you read this. The $1,981 TouchStation also features a 333MHz iMac; in the first quarter of 2000, the company will offer its product on the 400MHz iMac for the same price.
Elo's Surface Wave technology transmits a sound wave across the CRT surface, detecting your finger's coordinates when you touch the screen. MicroTouch's rival capacitive technology features a transparent, multilayer conductive film that coats the CRT; when you touch the screen, your finger displaces low-voltage electrical current transmitted through the film.
Although the differences are subtle, Elo appears to have the superior technology. The TouchStation overlay, though almost unnoticeable, slightly reduces brightness, and it won't work if you're wearing gloves or using a stylus. However, it does include an antibacterial coating. iTouch doesn't use an overlay and works with almost anything that touches the screen. Each product occupies one of the iMac's two USB ports via a cable that snakes out from the side of the display. Elo secures the cable with a gasket, giving the iTouch iMac a more-finished appearance than its competitor. But these differences are not dramatic-both systems perform equally well as interactive kiosks.
Touch-screen iMacs may find a place in some homes; a child will find a touch screen much simpler to use than a mouse, and kids' software typically provides large clickable areas for navigation. But using a touch screen as your primary display can be frustrating: the Mac OS isn't designed to be driven by mouse-clicks alone.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Both systems work well as kiosks, but we lean toward Elo TouchSystems' iTouch, which is less expensive and more flexible.iTouchRATING: 4.0 micePROS: No overlay; works with any pointing device.
CONS: None significant.
COMPANY: Elo TouchSystems Inc. (800/356-8682, http://www.elotouch.com).
ESTIMATED PRICE: $1,599.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Antibacterial screen coating.
CONS: Uses overlay; requires finger touch.
COMPANY: MicroTouch Systems Inc. (800/642-7686, http://www.microtouch.com).
ESTIMATED PRICE: $1,981.