29 February 2008

I multitouched your mom

I'm going to find Apple, and I'm going to shoot them in the face. No, seriously. Not because I hate their OS, I've grown to accept that. This is because of what they've done to multitouch. Multitouch is just about the greatest thing ever, and sadly before Apple got involved nobody had heard of it. If you don't know what multitouch is, I'll use the now-canonical example of the iPhone, although ironically the iPhone uses almost none of multitouch's capabilities. If you're in the map view of the iPhone, and you put two fingers on the display and "pinch" them together, the map will zoom in. Oooo. Basically, multitouch is the ability for a touchscreen to recognize multiple fingers and react to their movements.

I first discovered multitouch years and years ago, probably close to a decade now. It was a small company called Fingerworks, and they manufactured the iGesture Pad:

It's a big multitouch pad that accepts any combination of 5 fingers, either spread apart or together. You can move in different directions, rotate your hand in different ways, spread or collapse your fingers, basically tons and tons of different gestures, and each one can do a different thing. Look at that sexy, sexy device. You want one, don't you? Well, you can't have one. Because Fingerworks is out of business. I live in fear of the day my iGesture Pad breaks, because I'll have considerable trouble replacing it. If you clicked that link I had to them earlier, you know that "FingerWorks has ceased operations as a business". Why? That's what we (I believe the accepted term is "fingerfans") all asked. Just one day, probably 5 years ago now, they were gone. Finally, rumors started circulating that Apple had bought them out.

At first, I thought this might be good news. As I mentioned earlier, nobody had really heard of multitouch except its small group of fans, although demonstrations by people like Jeff Han led to it being rediscovered all over again by a much larger audience who think the technology was invented two years ago. Nonetheless, Fingerworks was struggling as a business, and I figured with Apple marketing their products and improving them, multitouch was going to explode. Oh, silly me. For ages, nothing happened. And we fingerfans were confused. Then the iPhone came out, and its Fingerworks roots were obvious. Sure, now it's a display instead of a simple pad, but it's the same technology, only way suckier. Worse, Apple keeps filing for patents for stuff like, for example, the pinch gesture for zooming. Instead of innovating, they've spent years doing nothing but making sure nobody else can innovate either.

What probably annoys me most is most people don't even realize Apple is doing this. People think Apple invented the technology, or damn close. Quotes like "the iPhone is arguably the first mainstream gadget to successfully implement a set of concrete touch gestures and link them to specific functions" from that Wired article drive me crazy. Apple didn't come up with this at all; they basically stole it from Fingerworks, crushed the company, and then did nothing with the technology but let it sit there. If they don't want to do anything with it, that's fine, but they're blocking everyone else from doing anything either. Multitouch should be huge by now, but instead it's remained stuck for the last 5 years, and Apple is at least partly to blame. The Fingerworks people (who work -- "work" -- at Apple now) probably hate themselves.

As an aside, I tried to look up the wikipedia article on Fingerworks, which used to exist. Now it just links to the article on Apple. Not cool.


ivanw said...

+1 ...see for yourself" what the real thing can/could do

ivanw said...

Yes, ...Fingerworks site is still here

Michael Mrozek said...

I know their site still exists; I'm less concerned about their site and more concerned about their fantastic products, which they can't make anymore since Apple bought them. It's amazing how much their stuff sells for on eBay now, I'm tempted to sell my gesture pad, but I use it everyday.

ivanw said...

Well, most people think that money can buy everything. That's why Apple can thrive like this... Wayne Westerman and John Elias would have to be somehow obsessional not to have accepted the opportunity offered by Apple. It's just unfortunate it had the side effect of burying their project.

But I think they will have plenty of time to regret their decision in a few years... I think that money is not so much of an answer to each and every question, but it's only my way.

I love the Touchstream keyboard I have on my desk. It's not because I use it everyday, I don't! It is rather because I can do things that iphone users can't dream to do with their pricey gadget ;)
And I can customize the device because it is made for people smart enough to use their brain with the sophisticated Mygesture Editor that fingered-only users will never have.