Living in the Future is a new column about those rare moments, as we go about our daily lives, when we realize that what we're doing is amazing. We have a tendency to assimilate new tech into our lives without giving it much thought, or even without much gratitude, as Louis C.K. reminds us. But every once in awhile, we get that visceral "whoomph" while doing something as mundane as listening to music or playing a video game, and think: "Holy shit. I can't believe this is possible."
I haven't used a computer mouse in three years. That's all because of an app for Mac OS X called Multiclutch. MultiClutch was a game changer for me, a brief but epiphanic look at the future of computing. The idea: you can map keyboard commands to multitouch gestures. This does not sound like a big deal.
It is a big deal.
I was introduced to Multiclutch about an hour after I'd bought my first Apple product, a MacBook Pro, in the summer of 2009. I bought the MacBook reluctantly, sort of sullenly, convinced I was going to hate it after a lifetime of Windows. I brought it over to a friend's place to set it up."Before you do anything else," he said, "download Multiclutch." I downloaded, I installed, I configured, and suddenly I got it. This was something different, something better in a basic way.
Multiclutch was really more important in the doors it opened than what it was. It takes the way you use your computer away from keyboard commands or, god forbid, a mouse, which now seem archaic remnants of the past to be filed in a dark room on the shelf next to the floppy disks and the CRT monitors, to the futuristic swipety-swipe of a trackpad. Switching between tabs in a web browser isn't a CMD-Shift-Bracket anymore, nor do I have to move the cursor up to select the tab I want--I just make this elegant little rotation of my fingers, left or right, and I'm on the next or previous tab. A three finger swipe up is now my universal command replacement for "new" or "open." (Open a video in VLC? Swipe up. Open a new tab in Chrome? Swipe up.) Swiping left and right goes forward and backward. Swiping down means "close." It is so natural, so intuitive, so easy. It makes computing with a keyboard and "mouse" feel as sleek and futuristic as a touchscreen.
The feeling of control was totally different from the keystroke-based computing I was used to. It no longer felt like I was commanding an army from far away, typing these directives to be coldly executed on my screen. Instead, it felt like I was actually in control. I wasn't telling the computer to switch tabs--I was switching tabs. When I swipe three fingers down, I don't think about "swiping three fingers down," and I don't think "CMD-W": I think about closing whatever I'm doing.
It's efficient, for many tasks faster than keyboard commands, but that's not exactly why it feels so good. It's more about bridging the communication gap between yourself and a computer, breaking down these complex key-related translations and using your hands in the same way you use your hands in real life: gesturing.
When you talk, you gesture. You use your hands to give commands, hurl insults, show appreciation--you communicate, on a basic level--and it's all instinctive. Other people, assuming they've been raised with your particular culture's gestures, understand you. It can be more concise, more elegant, than using your words. And I came to see multitouch in the same way. I wasn't using my words, or my keyboard, to instruct my computer on how I wanted it to work. I wasn't using the old system of mousing, which is reliant on moving a cursor and selecting individual buttons, like flicking switches in an old airplane cockpit. That's all gone. It's not a keyboard, and it's not a mouse. It's better than both. Why bother with menus, commands, strings of input, or button-clicking when a swipe is so much more natural and universal?
Apple has gone on record saying that the company has no plans to release a touchscreen laptop. It just isn't practical to use, they say. Apple's answer, a way to change input so it feels just as futuristic as a touchscreen, is--surprise, surprise--the same idea as Multiclutch. Mac OS Lion, that dumb buggy beast of an update, has many of those gestures built-in, plus some other ones to open Mission Control, flip between Spaces, drag, or look up words in the dictionary.
MultiClutch hasn't been under active development probably in years, at this point, and isn't compatible with Lion anyway. I've moved to a similar program called BetterTouchTool, which is actually significantly more powerful than either MultiClutch or Lion's built-in tools. But the specific program is less important than the idea behind it, anyway--I wasn't excited about a cool new program, I was excited for a totally unexpected way to interact with my computer, and even though I don't use them, I think it's pretty exciting that Apple baked this idea right into the OS. That's the way computing is supposed to feel: like a glimpse three years in the future.
You use your hands to give commands ? Yes of course and you also use your hands to hit buttons on a keyboard. When you sit at a desk and a have a keyboard and a mouse in the right position why would just use a touchpad instead ? It seems a nice way to control something but really you're the one who is assuming this is such a futuristic control method, I have used many touchpads including the new glass moutlitouch ones, I still prefer a mouse anyday.
I used to work for a company who specialized in Natural User Interfaces (NUI), User Experience (UX) and Multi-touch (desktop and automotive applications) environments and am familiar with being around this kind of technology. That being said, I agree with fourthletter assessment. A keyboard and mouse are still easier to use in most situations and are a preferred way of interacting with the desktop. They are just more practical, in my opinion.
Granted, there are some situations where touch is better, but this too is limited to specific actions without becoming overly complicated and difficult to learn. The purpose of NUI is to be natural and sometimes developers like to do too much with the same technology, going beyond the natural movement and gestures just to "use" a certain technology.
Give me a keyboard and mouse please. :)
While I do not question the utility of multi-touch commands, I do not belief this to make tools such as keyboards and mice obsolete for a great many applications. As an engineer I use many programs which require a level of precision that cannot be met with fingers and a mouse is a must. Likewise, I could see a not so distant future where typing is largely replaced by voice transcription, but still not used in an office environment due to the noise many people talking would make.
Also given the rapid pace of facial and gesture recognition improvements, I believe the concept of using a touch pad will prove to be short lived.
I personally love my Magic Mouse, it's a very nice combo of multi-touch gestures and the traditional mouse.
You see, MacTards have to have "Gadgets" to make them like their Macs, but REAL computer users are more than satisfied with a good keyboards and a good ergo mouse or trackball/trackpad device. This is why Macs have made NO GAINS in the world computer market in the last 20 years and is still only <4% world-wide and 5% in the USA. (Statistics from Neilsen Research Dec 2011).
There have long been the predictions of the demise of the keyboard and mouse, just like your publication predicting the "Flying Car in Every Household" since the 1950's! Neither has happened and won't for a very long time to come. The ONLY technology that will put a dent into the physicality of the mechanical keyboard and mouse is the Touch Screen, which still has problems with typing. Technologies like SIRI (and there are hundred) can't handle Dialects and Accents, as complaints from all around the US and other "English" speaking countries mount against the Apple iPhony.
I truly think this magazine should change their name to Popular Science Fantasies. It's an entertaining Comic Book.
My issue with gestural interfacing is the lack precision. As a game dev/artist, there is no way swiping my fingers across a surface could accommodate me and the demands of my job.
I think the examples provided: opening apps, switching tabs, closing windows, etc. would be nice for people like my parents (check email/web browse). However, if you're using a computer for any technical or precision oriented purpose (or gaming), the usefulness of such a tool drops off.
Sounds like a neat little toy, but I'll probably be using my keyboard/mouse until computers can just read my thoughts.
The mouse still has its uses, but I think that over time, more people will move to a trackpad. For me, it's very simple: Why look for a rotate button in my image editor when I can just rotate my fingers and be done. Why click on the magnifying glass to zoom when I can just move my fingers apart? Why tab between applications when I can just swipe my fingers across my trackpad? Those are just a few examples.
As for the keyboard, it's not going away for a long time. but many of the shortcuts people use are easier on a trackpad. No all, but many.
And yes, there are times when pixel level control is best done with a mouse. But there will come a time when people get irritated when they're required to use a mouse.
Everything is designed for mice right now. I'm sure if everything were designed for touch gestures then it would be fantastic. Until that happens, the mouse is going to rule because too many people are too scared of change.
God forbid we spend 10 minutes learning something new.
If the touchpad is multitouch and integrated with the OS, it's hard to beat. Especially in a notebook. As for graphics design and editing, I prefer a tablet with a stylus to a touchpad to a mouse. Touchpads just take some getting used to, and, as I said before, the touchpad is limited by the OS and gestures that are supported.
Stop flaming. Have a nice day.
Another thought, I love my touchpad for gaming. Everyone thinks it's weird, but I got started with it on my windows laptop and never changed back. Only a month ago did I get a mouse to dual wield in Skyrim and select targets in AC: R multiplayer. I got it mainly becuase I am running a windows partition and the gesture support is very unsatisfactory.
I think the final word is, computer users prefer customization. If multitouch strokes tooled to you feel most natural, you will prefer them. If you can do something similar with a mouse, or create a customized keyboard layout optimized for you, that will feel most natural.
"Holy ****. I can't believe this is" ... actually the way that an entity like Popular Science communicates. I recognize that this may have been the author's first thought, (apparently he is intelligent but inarticulate) and that both "freedom of speech" (what an absurd standard to promote - you are only free IF you obey certain laws, or you will learn what 'libel' and 'hate-mongering' mean) and poetic licence, (which "always" is enacted to serve a literary purpose) are the shields he would hide behind to justify the fact that; "this is what I actually said, so I guess I can put it to paper", but I would hope that a periodical that has such high standards with it's prose would also maintain that standard with it's editorial authority. Please do not succumb to the digression of modern diction. It is actually "highly commendable" to stand apart from those who would chose slang over skill, and say the intelligent thing intelligently. There have to be better words that can be used, regardless of what society says. You guys stand apart from the crowd because of your respect for science and your ability to explain it beautifully. Don't lose that stance for the sake of conformity. You are better than that - at least you used to be.
Dan's enthusiastic reaction to Apple's pad interface is understandable and shared by millions of people. Unfortunately, there are always going to be people who either "don't get it" or who are simply jealous. Just as you wouldn't use a car to mix bread dough, there are times that a pad isn't the best tool for the job. As difficult as computers can be, anything to make the interfacing easier is a major plus. Who among us would prefer that we were still using DOS and keyboard arrow keys for all software interactions? Okay, you CP/M and Unix people sit down!
Thank you Jajpaf for pointing out the inapproptriatness of the use of such language in a publication as timeless as Popular Science in whatever its form. Times change and common usage changes too, but some of it needs to resisted in the name of civility and decency. It's bad enough that everyday conversation has been reduced to what used to be called locker room standards; don't contaminate the pages of your magazine with the words of an author too lazy to develop a vocabulary that can express his ideas in a civilized manner.