Gesture interfaces

by Foolproof

After successfully conquering the mobile space, touch interfaces are invading the desktop.

Since the release of Apple’s new Magic Trackpad, there has been a lot of speculation on whether this kind of device is a serious contender to the glorious mouse as the preferred pointing interface on desktop computers.

Touchpads have been featured on laptops for ages now, but what makes their latest incarnations particularly interesting is the increasing support for touch gestures.

Touch gestures are a relatively new interaction paradigm. They allow users to perform different tasks by acting on the pointing device in codified ways, and work particularly well when paired with multitouch hardware.

Swipe two fingers to scroll a web page or pan across a picture, swipe three to drag around a window: once I discovered that even my cheap netbook supports gestures, these have become second nature. But are they enough for convincing people to ditch the mouse altogether? Probably not so fast.

Apart from accuracy, gesture-enabled touchpads have to face some other challenges in terms of user experience. First, there is usually no way of inferring a gesture action from the physical shape of the device: gestures have to be learned and memorized to be used effectively.

They are also usually less convenient in terms of movement required by the user. Another risk is that different software can implement different moves for performing the same action, increasing learning time and confusion. This is why there are not so many codified gestures around, even if combinations are potentially infinite.

However, all these shortcomings can be easily overcome and it is interesting how hardware and software makers are trying to teach us this new language with demos, stickers, pictures. The real problem here is that desktop software is not quite ready yet for the transition to a gesture-controlled GUI.

Support for gestures is still limited and it will take a while before we can take full advantage of their implementation, but the prospects are surely intriguing.

Author: Andrea Agueci

 

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