Friday, July 11, 2008

Will Multi-Touch Soon Be Coming to OS X?

Today is the big day for all of you wanting to finally get your hands on a shiny new iPhone 3G, but it is also a big day for anyone wondering if Apple is ever going to add multi-touch to it's line of desktop Macs. Thats because new Apple patents have emerged that indicated that Apple is at least considering such a move.  AppleInsider has a post that not only indicates that such a move to multi-touch is probably coming, but one that could also lead to a revolution in new and unique software.

Regarding the newly emerged patent filings, AppleInsider points out:

"Despite the skew towards media apps, however, the filing also makes clear that Apple is devising methods to control its entire Mac operating system through multi-touch rather than a mouse and keyboard.

On a basic level, finger input could be used to select icons in the Dock or to tap individual menu items. Apple's described methods, however, would replace the two-finger trackpad scrolling of today with controls on the screen proper: an interface could either recognize two fingers on the screen itself and pan along with the user, or else turn to an on-screen directional pad that permits four-way scrolling with single finger presses.

The Mac maker's inventor has also developed a unique way of registering a right-click equivalent on an icon or list item. Placing two fingers on an item and then tapping the right finger would open a context-sensitive menu that would allow copying, shortcut creation, and other functions frequently off-limits to touch displays."

Since multi-touch for OS X already exists - it runs on the iPhone now, it doesn't take much of a stretch to envision it eventually being applied to the  Mac desktop as well. Of course, what we are talking about here is more than just what we find on the iPhone today, much more in fact.

As you can see demonstrated in the above video, a program, such as Google Earth, can be easily manipulated via multi-touch. Simply by flipping your fingers, you can easily set the earth spinning on it's axis, or by double tapping you can zoom in on any part of the globe for a much more detail look.

Not only does multi-touch make navigating such a program a breeze, it also makes it a lot more fun and interesting, but such a demonstration is only the tip of the iceberg.  As Apple's patent drawings clearly show, one can easily apply multi-touch to set not only globes spinning, but recording discs, as used by dj's the world over, and everything else. Multi-touch is limitless and is about to change forever how we interact with computers and other devices, be it stoves, televisions, cars, or what have you.

As AppleInsider also pointed out, such patents don't actually mean that what we see coming off the drawing table today, is a guarantee that we will see it coming off the assembly line tomorrow, but rather it simply indicates what might happen. Personally, however, I'm convinced that Apple is more than just entertaining the idea of multi-touch for it's desktops, laptops, or any possible rumored tablet like device. There are two key reasons why I think that we soon see multi-touch coming to OS X based desktop and laptops soon, besides those both already found on the iPhone and iPod.

These two are:

- Windows 7. Yes, Microsoft has already outlined that it is coming to Vista's successor and possibly as soon as late next year. Will Apple allow Windows 7 to get the jump on Snow Leopard? I doubt it.

Even though Snow Leopard, Leopard's replacement, also scheduled for next year, will be more about adding speed, security and creating other under-the-hood enhancements rather than adding features such as multi-touch, I still believe that the odds are good that Apple will sneak it in. I'm convinced that Apple always intended for multi-touch to be a part of OS X, and now that Windows 7 will be getting it, it will only hasten OS X getting it too.  

In other words - OS X will be getting multi-touch, and much sooner than later.

These under-the-hood improvements will be much more important than multi-touch all by itself, I believe.  However, I also firmly believe, that in the end, it is these very enhancements that should also make multi-touch a much faster and more pleasant experience to use in OS X than that of Windows 7.  Multi-touch, after all, is not that impressive if its slow, quirky and cumbersome to use.

- Another reason why I believe multi-touch is coming to OS X, is simply because multi-touch is already running successfully on OS X via the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPhone has proven, once-and-for-all, that multi-touch not only works, but works immensely well. Multi-touch enhances the navigation and the usability of a product, and it clearly demonstrates by the overwhelming acceptance of the iPhone, that multi-touch is a feature that is very much in demand. So, naturally, since multi-touch is already running quite successfully on the OS X based iPod Touch and iPhone, and because customers desperately love and want it, it should be mere child's play and natural for Apple to add it to the OS X desktop as well. 

Of course, there are downsides to multi-touch as well.  Some like to point out that all of that touching will naturally translate into a lot unsightly, greasy finger marks. Who wants to dirty up their screen with such finger smudges and possible scratches? Not me, for one.

Then again, multi-touch means more than just dirty, smudged or scratched up screens - it also means newer and more expensive ones to boot! Unfortunately, unless some genius out there can figure out how to apply multi-touch to the current crop of screens, multi-touch is going to require entirely new and expensive replacements. If there is one thing that people love more than a multi-touch computer - it's not having to pay more for it! As impressive as both the iPod Touch and iPhone screens are, they are small in comparison, so the cost is not that noticeable. Large multi-touch screens, on the other hand, is another thing entirely. 

Even though we still have to wait for multi-touch equipped desktops and laptops, the wait, I firmly believe, will be a short one. Coming soon, whether it be on a Windows 7, or a OS X based computer (and possibly Linux as well), multi-touch will soon be a part of our day-to-day computing experience. Multi-touch will make using computers more intuitive and natural to use, and should promote newer and more unique ways of using our computers and software. But most of all, I believe - multi- touch will make them  a lot more interesting and  fun to use.

I can barely wait.

And that's my 2 cents, 4 this Friday, July 1 , 2008.

Image via: AppleInsider 

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