The Unreasonable Stance: Multi-touch is just more Apple snake oil

Welcome to the Unreasonable Stance, where our own Devin Coldewey takes the minority opinion on a tech matter and defends it with convenient data, spun numbers, fanboyism, and insults until he proves, without a doubt, that those that disagree with him are filthy mouth-breathers.

Everybody’s all a-twitter about Apple’s latest amazing technology, the incomparable “multi-touch.” But what is it exactly that is so great about this? It’s impressive technically, but it doesn’t really seem to be very handy for much of anything.

I’m no enemy of change, or of progress. I welcome more Hertz, higher bandwidth, and slicker interfaces as much as the next guy, and when I saw the YouTube videos of Jeff Han and Perceptive Pixel, I was convinced that the Minority Report era had arrived. But my expectations have had to be adjusted every time reality takes another bite out of fantasy. One moment I’m sweeping my hands across a wall-sized display, soon it’s downsized to picking wines on a cocktail arcade cabinet, and now I’ve been reduced to using a stamp-sized touchpad(.mov) to rotate my photos.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea is cool, but the way it’s being implemented by Apple is pretty weak sauce. What functionality, exactly, is being added here? The ability to pinch and swipe? I can see how an analog zoom might be kind of nice, but it’s really an incredibly small feature. And swiping? Is swiping through your photos really more intuitive or faster than looking at thumbnails? I think not. In fact, while the technology has been promoted as a totally next-generation interface, it’s really only an incremental step forward — where it isn’t a step back.

Apple forcing people to use their new and often deeply flawed products goes back a long way. I can’t be the only one who likes the first iPod’s physical wheel. The dock is another example of how to pretend to innovation while miring the consumer in problematic design masked by eye candy. Multi-touch is just the latest and most high tech wool being pulled over our eyes.

Absent a touchscreen, multi-touch is severely limited in its applications. You can’t, for example, grab two windows at once to switch their positions, because you can’t have two cursors and you don’t know where your “other” finger will show up on screen. You can’t draw with it or select text or parts of images with any kind of speed or accuracy. Because you can’t see where your fingers are on the screen itself, the gestures are limited to relative movements instead of the absolute gestures like you might find on Microsoft’s Surface.

They could have made this into an amazing and versatile tool, but for some reason practicality isn’t in Apple’s playbook lately. Here’s an idea, just off the top of my head: Put three fingers down. Move your index finger down and it pulls down the Apple menu. Selects when you lift up your finger. Or use your middle finger to pull down the application menu, your ring finger to pull down file or whatever. Why isn’t this the new thing you can do? I can already rotate my photos quickly and easily, or do pixel-perfect orientations with the align tool. Why do you need to add another way? Yet I’ve been pulling down menus the same old-fashioned way for going on 20 years now. Why not really revolutionize something, Apple? Why not think differently and change the game like you used to? You disappoint me.