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Multitouch indeed

Anybody who’s into HCI —naturally including yours truly— has been salivating of late to the news that Mac OS X 10.5 might support multitouch UI, a new (to consumers) mode of human-computer interaction brought to the public consciousness in the film Minority Report, in Jeff Han’s 2006 TED presentation, and of course in the iPhone.

The news (or speculation turned rumor, rather — it’s all completely imaginary) turned up on Steven Berlin Johnson’s blog a couple days ago, crying “multitouch everywhere!” and musing that a new lineup of touch-sensitive Apple Cinema Displays, coupled with OS X 10.5, could usher in a new era of computing.

Think about the common denominator behind:

  • The missing killer features in the Leopard preview
  • The lack of iLife updates in Jan 07
  • The rollout of the iPhone multitouch interface
  • The abnormally long delay in releasing new Apple displays
  • A rumor about a ProTools killer that relies on touch displays

I look at all those developments, and say with absolute scientific precision: Apple is going to roll out the multitouch interface across almost its entire product line this spring, integrated into Leopard, new displays, iPhone, iLife, and the successor to Logic.

All manner of commentators have lambasted the idea along the lines of “who the hell wants to spend their day with their arms in the air?” (they’re right, who does?) and superpundit John Gruber agrees:

I think a touch-based UI only makes sense for a tablet-like computer (like the iPhone). I’m not sure it would be generally useful with traditional displays or MacBooks. The angles seem wrong to me.

Me, I think the spirit of the excitement is right, but the trajectory is off.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a wall-mounted, multitouch-enabled, thirty-inch display would be the balls, I just don’t think anyone would buy them. There’s the muscle-strain complaint, the generally-agreed impracticality, the tremendous expense of the new displays (which you could bet would have built-in iSight cameras, too), and the massive number of people who would just plain miss out on the experience because they have current-generation displays, iMacs, and notebooks. What kind of super-sekrit special feature is a multitouch UI when nobody would be able to use it?

I think we’re just thinking too big.

What inexpensive computer peripheral could be hooked up to any old Mac, replacing the traditional mouse, to bring the revolution home? What has been built into Apple notebooks for several years already, enabling such amusements as two-finger scrolling and the two-finger right click?

Did you say trackpads?

We don’t need new displays, and we don’t need to hit the gym before Leopard’s release for tricep endurance training. With a multitouch-sensitive external trackpad on the desk, we could all be flicking and pinching and throwing our windows around in no time. It’s just speculation, as are most things you hear on the ‘net about Mac OS X 10.5, but I say it with absolute scientific precision.

Intrusive advertising asshats

If you haven’t read it already, Dan Gilbert’s New York Times op-ed piece Compassionate Commercialism is worth a look. It took a couple of sites in NetNewsWire to mention it before I bothered reading it, so maybe this will be that site for you. Jason Kottke asks “How long before these ads train us not to do anything nice for anyone for fear of being messaged at?”

How long? You mean you weren’t already?

It all started with Nobby. Nobby isn’t his real name, I don’t know his real name, but he’s a regular on the Perth public transport system. He’s tall and extremely thin, he walks with a limp, and I met him on a bus at Stirling train station.

It was a 99 — the bus that took me from Stirling to the University of Western Australia for three years — and I was seated, reading a textbook. As Nobby boarded, I looked up and my eyes met his. Accidental, yeah, but I’m not so impolite as to pretend he didn’t exist. If he were a pretty girl I might’ve been inclined to hastily avert my gaze (I’m only a proficient flirt when I’m loaded) but instead I smiled — a friendly, polite smile — and went back to my reading. Nobby figured this was an invitation to sit down next to me and sell me on Jesus.

I listened for as long as could be considered polite, listened to his story of how the lord visited him, flying through his bedroom window on a rainbow, and healed his legs. But in the end I had to give him my best “thanks anyway” and stick my nose firmly back into my book. That day I decided it was in my best interest to avoid smiling at strangers on public transport.

After that came the motley assortment of surveyors, environmentalists, panhandlers, buskers, beggars, and spruikers. They’d always been there, but I realized the reason I was plagued by them was that I was being too friendly. Just making eye contact was enough to have them shuffle over and speak to me at length about their exclusive offer.

I ignore billboards, I toss junk mail. Intrusive marketing has taught me to disregard even the most basic of human psychological responses. I probably should pay attention to the big yellow-and-black striped sign, but it’s just the new ‘Dangerously Spicy’ Tex Mex Burger. I probably should talk to the guy on the corner who wants my attention, but he just wants my money and my time, and doesn’t really plan to enrich my life any.

Ignoring the Nissan Altima keys I see on the park bench can’t be too far a step from here.

The double standard

An interesting couple of weeks for opinions on creative copying over at Daring Fireball. First, regarding the Simplebits/LogoMaid logo debacle, John says:

It’s not a blatant pixel-for-pixel copy, but clearly it’s a shameless knock-off. They took his logo and added a fake mustache, as it were.

Evaluating that visually:

LogoMaid’s icon is a ripoff of the SimpleBits icon

And today, concerning the charge that Apple’s “Hello” Oscars commercial is a rip-off of a sequence in a 1995 film by artist Christian Marclay, he says:

I don’t consider this a rip-off … Using the same basic idea is not the same thing as copying an original piece of work.

And breaking that down visually:

But Apple’s “Hello” commercial is not a ripoff of Marclay’s “Telephones”

So, uh… yeah. Using the idea of four curly braces in an icon? Rip-off. Using the idea of a dozen clips of film stars answering telephones with a variety of salutations? Not.

I like John Gruber and Daring Fireball —I’m a member, fer chrissakes— but this takes “Apple apologist” a bit far.

While I’m at it…

I recognize the irony of all this talk of copying, when this site’s logo is a shameless appropriation (not even a knock-off, an edit) of a Dave Brasgalla icon. I’ve mentioned that before, but then again I’m not trying to turn a profit on this joint, nor was Dave trying to turn a profit on the World of Aqua icon that was its source.

We’ve all had our work lifted before; sometimes blatantly, sometimes not. Sometimes for others’ profit, sometimes because they’re learning the ropes. I just found Gruber’s double standard amusing: one for guys he likes who are the victims of copying at the hands of companies he doesn’t like, and another for companies he likes who are the perpetrators against guys he doesn’t necessarily know or like.