How Would You Use Multitouch?

The NY Times ran an article yesterday about how multi-touch is about to become more commonplace (Turning Point for Touch Screens). Dell is putting it on a small laptop, it’ll be on all kinds of cellphones soon, and the next version of Windows is supposed to handle it natively. Since the iPhone has pushed this technology into the mainstream, it seems likely that Apple will bring it to OS X, as well.

The question for us in post production is how and whether we’d use it. Is it the world’s coolest thing, or a novelty that will wear off after an hour or two?

At NAB a few years ago, I experimented with Photoshop on a 20″ touchscreen from Wacom, and it was super-intuitive and fun to play with. And that was an old screen that could only handle one contact point at a time, with no understanding of gestures. Modern multi-touch would be much better.

My favorite fantasy would be use this kind of thing in trim mode. Select transitions with your fingers. Trim by dragging with your hands. And scrubbing? Just move your finger over the audio to listen to it.

But a multi-touch screen would likely lie flat or be oriented like a drafting table. Would you want to be looking down all the time? And would you want to move your arms over a 24 or 30″ space all day when you could be moving a mouse just a couple of inches?

I suspect that in the end we’re going to come up with some kind of hybrid model, where you’d use the multi-touch interface augmented by a mouse or pen. And your screen might be moveable so you could work with it vertically or horizontally.

Somebody ought to be setting up a lab right now to figure out how best to use this technology in the editing room. If it works, it could be a game changer, making the whole process of editing more organic and intuitive. The Times article ends with the following quote: “A lot of people don’t realize they want it until they use it.” Sometimes letting the customer tell you what they want is a good idea. But sometimes it guarantees that you’ll be late to the party.

What do you iPhone users think? Would you want a giant iPhone interface for editing?

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15 Comments on “How Would You Use Multitouch?”

  1. GPSchnyder Says:

    What do you iPhone users think? Would you want a giant iPhone interface for editing?

    Definitely. Pushing your Takes with your fingers, pinching the Timeline from detailed to an overview, dragging the color to a more blue like look…

    And for the Problem with the Display on the Bottom and the one standing on your desk? Use both. Two displays are better than one. ;-)

  2. Brad C Says:

    I own a Wacom tablet and usually find it helpful for graphics and finishing tasks, but for offline editing I can move much faster with a mouse and keyboard. I’m certain that all options will be available in the future and no one will be left wanting.

  3. MBarto Says:

    Could you even sit close enough to a 30″ touchscreen to effectively use the size. I would think the hybrid of a separate monitor with touch screen under your keyboard (built into desk?) could be helpful with garbage mattes and some effects as of now, but my experience with touch screen has been that they are far from being accurate enough to edit to the frame.

  4. Dylan Reeve Says:

    If this were to happen I’d prefer to see a ‘touchpad’ interface, like the little ones you have on laptops, rather than the screen. Touching the screen is intuitive for something but not for everything. Our fingers are big and clumsy and the things we want to touch in editing (clips, edits, effects controls) are generally relatively small.

    Perhaps something like a touchpad that’s about 4 inches long and 2-3 inches high. You can use it or the mouse to draw a highlight around something or select it, and then use gestural touch movements to control the selected thing – be it a trim, or effect control or colour grade.

    The problem with a screen-based on is that it pretty much as to be ‘absolute’ – your input applies to the area of the screen you are touching only – generally. So if the control or area of interest on the screen is only 20 pixels high and 60 pixels across you have a limited area of screen to work in. Removing the control surface from the screen makes it easier to make relative interface interactions where you have the whole surface with which to provide input to the selected control.

  5. AndrewK Says:

    Personally, I don’t think an all or mostly touch screen interface would be all that nifty for editing. A Minority Report style interface might be cool for a basic app like iMovie, but for the much more complex world of professional NLE’s I don’t think it would be useful. I assume most of use make liberal use of keyboard short cuts and there are only so many unique gestures you can come up with. Going towards a primarily touch screen interface seems like a move towards more drag ‘n drop style editing which is something most editors try to avoid because it’s not as fast as staying on the keyboard.

    Also, how much screen space would we lose because everything needs to be made bigger to accommodate our fat fingers (compared to a cursor that can be pixel accurate)?


  6. Jason Says:

    I always imagined a multi-touch keyboard device (something about as big as Apple’s current aluminum keyboards), but would be a multi-touch screen with keyboard “keys” imaged on a flat surface. Then when you needed to, the device could transform into an editing style device with jog shuttles that you could scroll with your fingers…

    To me it would make sense to replace the keyboard with something that could be more than a keyboard… it could be all the controls you need for any application. Music editing could benefit hugely from something like this – imaging having virtual sliders to use.

    I know people like the tactile feedback they get from current devices – but after using the iPhone keyboard I personally don’t miss it.

  7. Steve Says:

    We have to remember that multi-touch means MULTI-touch — multiple contact points are tracked. That might make it pretty cool for mixing. The problem with mixing with a mouse is that you can only drag one slider (or a group ganged together) at a time. But if you could move one up and another down, or whatever, that would make the virtual mixing console a lot more interesting.

    I think that’s the kind of thing that will appear when we start experimenting with this kind of interface. It won’t be good for everything. I think I’ll always prefer to press play with a physical key. But for somethings, it would be pretty intuitive.

  8. Allan W. Says:

    Having played around with iMovie 08 this weekend, I think the way it functions will make an easier jump to multitouch. FCP could learn a few things from those approaches.

    I really want multitouch in the live setting – cuing videos, making realtime graphics like a VJ. Jazzmutant is doing this now with their Lemur multitouch display.

  9. Rob Says:

    One of the reasons mice and trackballs cause repetitive stress injuries is because the very tiny movements require high tension in both the flexor and extensor muscles at the same time. I think the larger display would result is more movement and perhaps less tension in the muscles. This is just a guess on my part. I’ve been thinking about getting one of the Wacom single-touch tablets w/display. I did read some years ago some editor (don’t remember who) that found a regular tablet made editing easier on FCP.

  10. Steve Says:

    Yea, that’s a good point. The counter-argument to the idea that the reach would be too long on a big screen. I know so many people with repetitive motion problems. Not everybody needs surgery but most people get pain at one time or another. I used a regular Wacom tablet with a Media Composer quite successfully a few years ago. One thing I loved was that, for some things, you didn’t actually have to touch the pen to the tablet. And I think I programmed the clicker on the pen to be a double click. This made it very easy to just point at something and load it into a monitor. I now use a multi-button mouse (MS Intellimouse Optical) but I keep thinking we can do better.

  11. Steve Says:

    Responding to Allan W., I agree totally. For live and spontaneous work, it seems like there would be many ways to use a responsive multi-touch interface. And that Lemur mixing panel looks very cool.

    Check it out here:

    They ought to post some kind of video so we could all see it in action.

  12. Allan W. Says:

    I was thinking about this more today – found some vids for you guys:

    @AndrewK – this is a good example of how MT UIs look much different than cursor-based ones. Yes, there’s fat buttons and hit targets – which will be much easier to hit with a finger than moving that pointer to a spot (c.f. Fitts’ Law). The UI could change ‘beneath’ the user according to context.

  13. Allan W. Says:

    Even more Lemur vids at Vimeo. What a flexible tool!

  14. Steve Says:


    Nice illustration. That is precisely what I had in mind. Whether the details are exactly right, I’m not sure; you’d work that out as the interface was developed. But the idea is that you’d grab the edges of a transition, using multiple fingers, and then trim or move clips just by moving your hands — the ultimate form of scrubbing. I think that once you started working that way you’d never go back — way too intuitive. I can see it with mixing (as mentioned in previous comments), trimming, moving around in the timeline, adjusting visual effects, etc. A real paradigm shift. No question that you’d continue to use the keyboard for many things (pressing play and stop comes to mind), but for a lot of things a gestural interface would be awfully powerful, fast and intuitive.


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