The iPhone and Multi-Touch

iPhone Touch Screen The months of rumors are over, the iPhone has been revealed, and once again it looks like Apple has created a game-changer. Steve Jobs was reported to be more excited over this device than anything since the original Mac, and despite the obvious marketing hyperbole in such a statement, the parallels between the first Mac and the iPhone are pretty strong. Both represent a new platform — the iPhone is really a portable, Internet-connected, telephony-enabled Mac — and both represent the first commercialization of a powerful user-interface technology that was previously seen only in research labs. It’s that last bit that people are raving over.

The original Mac was the first wide-scale deployment of a mouse-based interface. The iPhone is the first wide-scale use of multi-touch technology, where the screen pays attention to multiple contact points and understands gestures.

The original Mac was so much more fun to use than a PC — and the iPhone’s gestural interface seems awfully engaging, in much the same way. Both devices connect with more of your nervous system than anything that came before. There’s a tighter feedback loop between what you do and what it does. Our vocabulary for this kind of thing is pretty limited, but what people inevitably say is that such a device feels good to use. It’s more intuitive because it does a better job of responding to your input.

The iPod, with its touch-sensitive scroll wheel also represented a new way to interact with a device, and you could argue that a big part of its success was due to that interface.

I hope that we see a wider popularization of multi-touch input devices in digital media applications soon. We’ve been interacting with our editing systems for a long time and there just hasn’t been much excitement in terms of feel for a long time. We’re due.

For more about what a big-screen multi-touch interface might look and feel like, check out my previous post on the subject.

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