What if…?

‘What would life be like if you had one arm tied behind your back all the time?

Recent on the technology scene is the appearance of devices that support “multi-touch”, and while it will probably take years to discover the interesting learning capabilities such devices promise, I think that these devices mark a significant break through in human-machine interaction.

An Analogy

Think of what it would be like if you went through life with one arm behind your back. Think of all the things that you could not do or that at best would be very hard to accomplish. You could not pick up large objects, could not hold a bag of groceries and open a door without great difficulty, hold paper steady on a desk while writing on it. Try it keep one arm behind you back for 1/2 a day and see how many things change.

Going through life with one arm behind your back is like a point and click, touch screen interface; we can do one thing at a time and mostly in serial order. Of course point-and-click seemed like a such a breakthrough capability (and it was) because before it, in effect we had both hands tied behind our backs, having to act through ancient rune-like keyboard languages with names like the “Command Line Interface”.

Now imagine you have that second arm free, and you can now do all those things that require two arms or two hands. How different is life? How many different things can you do because you have two arms and hands that can act together? Multi-touch, interfaces are like that; literally enabling you to live in a world of machines with two hands (with apologies to those who rightly say the iPod touch is one-hand multi-touch–remember this is an analogy). Suddenly you can communicate, not just an instance of location, but you can communicate a gesture; movement, direction, time, pressure, velocity and acceleration. Not only can you do one thing with one hand, and something different with the other, you can make both hands work together.

While the machines will take time to evolve and be married to compelling needs, from the user’s perspective multi-touch is a fundamentally expanded capability, one that did not exist before. Both metaphorically and literally, just like in life, the user can now do several different but coordinated things at the same time.