Multi-touch precedents

Posted on May 30, 2008

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With Microsoft’s demonstrations of Windows 7’s multi-touch support, the battle is joined with Apple to define the standard for multi-touch gestural interfaces. Apple is already patenting specific multi-touch gestures, as enabled on the iPhone and newest MacBooks.

All of this reminds me of some demos I tried over 10 years ago at a OzCHI conference in Hamiltron, at which Bill Buxton spoke. Buxton has had many previous lives, as an researcher at Xerox PARC, then at Alias\Wavefront and now Microsoft. He’s well known for researching dual-mouse input as early as 1986 (when Apple introduced the Apple Desktop Bus for the Mac).

He showed me some of his demos from the 80’s – even giving me a copy of the XCMD extention that enabled multi-mouse input within Hypercard. What struck me from my experience of the demos was how overwhelmingly natural they felt. After 30 seconds, it just felt completely normal.

At Alias\Wavefront, he introduced awesome dual-input interfaces to their high end painting products. Now at Microsoft, I suspect he has a central role in the development of their new input paradigms. After all, he’s got over 20 years of experience in precisely this space.

Buxton has written a great overview of his history in the field: Multi-Touch Systems That I Have Known and Loved.

Things like this remind me that there’s little new under the sun in terms of interaction design — just dirt-cheap hardware that brings yesterday’s esoteric experiments into the mainstream.

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