27th April 2023

Understanding the Differences between ‘Magic Tables’ and Interactive Touch Tables

In terms of touch tables and deciding on sensory kits,we get it.
It can be a daunting task deciding which type of sensory kit to choose for a care environment. Not only do you have to understand the needs of residents, you also have to consider how money will be best spent and whether new kit will help improve the general wellbeing of the home, as well as maintenance, accessibility, etc, etc. 
Confusing terminology can often make that whole situation even worse.
But thankfully that’s the benefit of reaching out to digital solution specialists (like us). We can help navigate this whole jumbled technological arena so that you can get the best option best suited to you.
A frequent mix up that we find with care homes is the distinction between the two sensory systems most often integrated within care (which is totally understandable). These two being the ‘magic table’ and the interactive touch tables.
Sometimes referred to as alternative names (which of course makes the confusion even WORSE) these two bits of tech are notably different in both function and appearance. Clarity is key.
We’ll quickly go over some of the differences to hopefully provide some clarity and as always if you ever need any additional support you can always contact us and we’ll be sure to answer any specific questions you might have.

What is a ‘Magic Table’?

A ‘magic table’ was one of the earlier reiterations of sensory equipment comparative to the projectors utilised within school settings. They work by projecting and often enlarging an image onto a surface so that it may be better seen by a larger group.

This was obviously a very useful tool for schools when it first came out since teachers were able to present documents and other learning material more effectively than on a typical whiteboard.

Developments in the technology and its developing purpose within care home environments made the kit more sensory, reactive to movements from the user. In order to better present this sensory interaction, the projection tended to focus upon lateral objects (i.e. tables) which were more easily available to residents limited in mobility.

On the whole these projected and interactive ‘magic’ tables were a fantastic addition to care home environments. Especially when providing for residents with diminished cognitive capacity and ability as with advanced stages of dementia.

What is a Interactive Touch Table?

An Interactive Touch Table is a kind of contrasting alternative. Distinctive in that: there’s no projector needed and they’re effectively a large scale mobile table like an iPad. These similarly offer sensory engagement for a large group, able to recognise multiple points of contact with the surface simultaneously (as many as 32 independent touches!)

Touch Tables have always been a fantastic tool for care homes specifically in that they offer all sorts of apps from either Android or Android and Windows PC. This is particularly helpful for activity coordinators in that you can effectively host all sorts of group games and one-to-one interactions without the stress of catering activities for specific groups of residents.

Want an exercise class? Done.

A movie night? Easy peesy.

Some bingo fun? All sorted.

What are the key differences between the two?

There are obviously pretty major differences in the tools themselves but it’s perhaps more helpful to consider the practical distinctions that make them suited for different roles within a care home setting.

  • Mobility

Due to the need for a projector which requires significant calibration to function correctly, ‘magic tables’ tend to be limited to one specific space. Often a table within a room. Some have some mobility, say if the projector is on a runner that might be navigated around the room but otherwise they’re fundamentally a stationary bit of kit which can make it hard for the whole home to really engage with all its amazing uses.

On the other hand, being large tablets, interactive touch tables can be can be wheeled around a room and from floor to floor. While initially a bit tricky to do, this kind of mobility is so useful for care home settings. Touch tables become a kind of multi-use tool able to be transported from private rooms to common spaces to staff training areas.

Use and function

Fundamentally, the distinctive presentation of these bits of kit means that they tend to be best utilised in notably distinctive ways. The ‘magic table’ was designed in such a way that users interact with and are stimulated by a myriad of simplistic games, music, and visuals. Though basic, research shows that ‘magic tables’ can be majorly positive to those living with dementia particularly in getting them to participate, instead of just watching. ‘Magic tables’ encourage movements in manual dexterity and cognitive challenges which only help benefit the whole home.

Interactive touch tables, on the other hand, are far more adaptable when it comes to function and intended use. In fact in many ways intended use really depends on the types of apps you have downloaded and the activities you wish to host within your home. As suggested above, we’ve known homes to use their touch tables for a variety of uses including (but not limited to): themed events, musical exercise routines, newsletter clubs, ‘walks’ around childhood towns, communicating with friends and family, playing sudoku, playing bingo, hosting pub quizzes, the list goes on and on.

  • Adaptability and Accessibility 

As noted above, Interactive Touch Tables tend to be significantly more versatile in both mobility and function. These traits on the whole would suggest a strong argument for the accessibility of interactive touch tables, especially when we consider that they’re also adaptable when it comes to the little things too (e.g. font size, screen brightness, screen contrast, etc). These modifications may seem minor to neurotypical residents but for those under the neurodivergent umbrella, they can mean the difference between joining in on the fun and sitting on the side lines. They’re essential.

Magic Tables are more limited in many ways but, and this is quite an important but, they are designed for those who might struggle with ‘basic’ cognitive and physical demands. Since the system doesn’t require significant technological comprehension, anyone can understand and operate it once it is set up.

  • Cost

When it comes to buying the respective products outright, the ‘magic table’ (on average) does tend to be cheaper. Remember to put this in context. A projector is a simpler bit of kit and it’s been around for longer. More expensive elements do arise when we consider long term use. You’d have to buy more for installation, blubs frequently burn out and general maintenance costs will be a consistent drip on your home’s budget. This is not to say that the ‘magic table’ is an expensive option but only to recognise that it’s not as cheap as a simple one time payment.

The Interactive Touch Table is more expensive to buy outright but there are a variety of finance options available to make purchase as accessible as possible. Additionally, the majority of repairs and maintaining costs will initially be recognised under the warranty of the product itself. This can be an appealing support line for those homes with limited budgets.

Ultimately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ option when it comes to this kind of sensory kit. There are distinctive advantages and disadvantages dependent on the day-to-day running of your home.

Keep in mind, Future Visuals also provides a variety of kit so while Interactive Touch Tables tend to be the most popular in community care environments with a mixture of cognitive ability, there is also the option of bigger projects like Immersive Rooms. Immersive rooms cater to those with SEN or additional needs, providing as much control as required to the user and as much freedom as possible for those who might otherwise be limited.

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