Gestures Is The New Black

Multi-touch trackpad. For me, that was the most interesting aspect of the just-announced-days-ago Apple Macbook Air. Unlike normal trackpads, a multi-touch trackpad also accepts input from two or more fingers. Before, you could only point, now you can pinch, swipe and turn; any gesture that requires more than one digit (or person).

This bodes well for future computer interfaces. Since the advent of the mouse, we’ve come to rely on it for nearly all computer related input; I couldn’t imagine a current computer without a mouse. In time, I’m sure, we’ll feel the same way about gestures. Not only multi-touch gestures, but all sorts of gestures: shaking, swiping, pinching, throwing, tapping, pointing, waving, drawing. We’re already seeing this expand to consoles and telephones; the more devices, the better. Gestures make things easy and fast and helps prevent RSI.

We won’t see distant future “Minority Report”-type gestures. If you really think about it, there’s a distinct lack of precision and tactile feedback associated with waving your hands in the air like Tom Cruise; a surface—rough, smooth or bumpy—has to be involved. Touch screens, trackpads, digitizers, even bump-mapped touch screens.

I’m using mouse gestures on my computer today, so much that I’d feel crippled, had I not access to them. StrokeIt (love that name) provides me with simple mouse gestures: holding the right mouse button and dragging diagonally towards the left corner minimizes a window. Holding the right mouse button and scrolling cycles through open apps. Holding the right mouse button and drawing an L closes an app or a window. It’s all much faster than pointing at tiny buttons or reaching for the keyboard.

The new Macbook now has access to multi-touch gestures. Mac interface guru Gruber writes:

To take advantage of this [multi-touch trackpad], apps need to handle new event notifications. Something more or less like “the user is pinching at these coordinates”. No existing apps other than Apple’s handle these events yet.

That’s only partially true. In this case—like it is with Wacom tablets—a memory resident driver could do most of the work. An application, whether it be iPhoto, iTunes or Adobe Photoshop only needs signals to function: rotate clockwise, zoom in or go back. He’s right that for gradual, smooth zooms and rotations, applications need to know how to deal with the input. But there’s no reason a memory resident driver shouldn’t be able to round up rotate 35.1 degrees to simply rotate clockwise one step: that’s just an emulated keyboard shortcut signal. Most multi-touch gestures—given a good driver—could benefit people today.