Multi-Touch Interface History

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Post  Admin on Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:43 pm

While the iPhone as a whole may be revolutionary, the individual elements forming the interface are not so new. Bill Buxton was pushing multi-hand input back in the 1980s when the world was just waking up to the mouse, already 20 years old at the time. Several researchers were experimenting with gestural interfaces in 1990s, myself included. I was reminded of this only minutes after Steve’s speech when my partner, Jakob Nielsen, called me to say, “Jobs just announced your pinch interface!”
I hadn't thought about my particular use of the pinch gesture in years. It had been part of my Star fire Project at Sun Microsystems, a look at the future, but, when we turned the project into a film, the scene showing it was cut to keep the film within reasonable bounds. That kept it out of the 1993 film, but not out of my 1996 book, Tog on Software Design, where, on page 78, my two-fingered shrink-objects-via-pinching gesture, working exactly as Jobs described, indeed appears...
(There was nothing magical about the “20 percent” in the above text. That was just how much, in this case, “Hiroshi” was going to need to shrink the object to get the effect he wanted. You could, of course, shrink and grow objects as much as you wanted, depending on how much you pinched or spread your fingers, just as with the iPhone.)
I didn’t try to patent the object-shrink-pinch process in 1992 when I hit upon it—Sun didn’t get “patent madness” until more than a year after I had showed it around—so I can’t claim that I was even the first to come up with it because we never researched prior art.
Bill Buxton has assembled an excellent Multitouch Chronology. It reveals that Myron Krueger was using pinching as a gesture by 1982, although I haven't discovered what meaning he ascribed to it. (Myron Krueger is famous for coining the term, "artificial reality," back in 1973, a scant five years after Timothy Leary had popularized one means of achieving it.)

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