• Apple Patents Gestures

    In a potentially significant ruling, the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple, Inc. a sweeping patent for twenty-four gestures and chorded finger positions for controlling a future touchscreen OS. This means that Apple could pretty much own multitouch… it's as if the company had patented the double-click back when the first Macintosh operating system was released in 1984. If Apple is successful in making these gestures standard for touchscreen interfaces, any other company who wants to use them will have to license them from Apple.

    Patently Apple describes the scheme (sort of confusingly entitled "System and method for packing multitouch gestures onto a hand"), which specifies that some commands will be executed with your hand in a "neutral" position, with different fingers pressed to the screen, and that other, less frequently used commands will involve touching fingers to the screen in a "spread-hand" position. For example, all four fingers in a neutral position on the screen will pan the screen right and left. The same gesture with a spread hand will move the cursor to the beginning or end of the line. It seems like one of those things that's hard to describe but easy to do once you get used to it.

    One risk here is that other touchscreen platforms (O HAI, ANDROID) will use a different set of gestures to avoid patent infringement, and so we'll have a different "gesture vocabulary" to use different devices. The likelihood is that we'll eventually settle on a single standard set of gestures, though… and Apple is obviously hoping that it will be theirs.
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