Thursday, January 11, 2007

Touch you I

If you're reading this, you must have heard Tuesday's big news. Even if you weren't following it on twitter or the web, you found out soon enough, either from a major news outlet or by reading any of the thousands of blogs discussing it.

That number is no exaggeration: as of this writing, technorati lists 83,622 posts, and Google Blog Search returns about 86,006 results from the past three days.

If you've been following this space long enough, you've already seen some aspects of the interface to this device. The "pinch" zoom paradigm looks just like the light box tool that J. Han's lab put together, so you can proudly tell all your friends that you knew about this whole multi-touch UI way before Apple brought it into the mainstream, which suddenly made it so much less cool.

But that gloat leaves you open to one-upmanship, as I just found out that J. Han was not the first to implement such gestural control of a computer. Over at Microsoft Research, A. Wilson had a working demo of TouchLight in late 2004. If anyone knows of an earlier claim to this concept, please let me know; otherwise, cheers to A. Wilson's ingenuity and creative spark!

While proper credit is due the originator of any idea, it is equally important to note the astounding progress each of these iterations accomplished. The product from the Courant Institute took some great HCI ideas and built a robust interface library and scalable hardware around them, inviting software developers to join in the fun. Now, Apple Computer Inc. has managed to pack that technology into less space than a satisfying meal, along with wireless transmitters, a camera, an accelerometer, etc., and to make it all as attractive as we expect Apple products to be.

It is crucial to remember that the well executed embodiment of an idea is itself a creative task, often no less challenging than the development of the original idea.

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