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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.