Verizon's Droid Points Out the Importance of Pinching
When I compared the Verizon Droid to the iPhone 3GS last week, I said that the Droid didn't have multi-touch input--based on the fact that I'd used it a lot and encountered no instances when it did. A commenter said that the phone did indeed support multi-touch, and I tweaked my item. Essentially, the phone is capable of multi-touch; it just chooses not to use it.
Today, Rob Jackson of Phandroid pointed out that the Android image editor Picsay uses multi-touch, and serves as proof that the Droid can do it. He's right, and Picsay shows the power of controlling your phone with more than one finger at a time. As with iPhone applications, it lets zoom in and out of images by pulling and pinching them. It's wonderfully fluid-at least as good as the iPhone's multi-touch.
It's also preferable to the approach to zooming used in the Droid's standard apps: In them, you double-tap to zoom in, or use zoom/shrink buttons that appear in the lower left-hand side of the screen. That works well enough-it's certainly not an argument against buying a Droid-but you lose the precision of pinching and pulling, and it just feels clunkier overall. And given that Picsay is proof positive that some Android apps do use iPhone-style multi-touch, the Droid will suffer from basic inconsistencies in its user interface.
How come the Droid doesn't make multi-touch a core part of its experience? It's possible that only people who work for Verizon Wireless, Motorola, or Google know for sure. The logical assumption is that the Droid's makers don't want to run afoul of Apple's multi-touch patents, but Engadget's Nilay Patel has a smart post up with plenty of evidence that pinching and pulling are in the clear. (Among them: The Palm Pre, Zune HD, and Windows 7 all incorporate the gesture much as it appears on the iPhone.)
Patel theorizes that it's possible that Google simply hasn't gotten around to enabling multi-touch in Android 2.0's apps. That seems like an odd theory-it is, after all, the gesture that's more or less synonymous with next-generation smartphones-but it doesn't seem any less likely than any other possibility.
One way or another, I agree with Jeffrey Sambells, who says that gestures are language and should be consistent on multiple platforms. Or to think of it a slightly different way: I know that if I want to search for something on a desktop computer or laptop, I can press <Ctrl><F> (or its Mac counterpart, <Command><F>) in virtually any application. Aren't touchscreen gestures pretty much the modern equivalent of keyboard shortcuts? Shouldn't they be equally standardized?