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Taste of the Future: iPhone to the nth degree

The "multi touch" screen of the iPhone is perhaps one of the most interesting novelties of the iPhone. A screen that understands the user's gesture and translates it into complex interface commands. The ingenious idea, but perhaps not entirely new and not only because something like this had been seen in some science fiction films, such as Minority Report, but because a demonstration of the potential of this type of technology had been shown in a live presentation, which took place in February 2006 on the occasion of the TED, an original event taking place in Monterey, California. At TED, brilliant talents and minds that belong to the most disparate fields come together: from technology to entertainment, from cinema to software: a meeting of geniuses that has the "only" purpose of sharing ideas and projects.

A year ago in Monterey, CaliforniaThe YouTube video begins with the presentation of Jeff Han which shows the public a large rear-projection screen, equipped with a multi-touch surface. Unlike current touch-sensitive screens, which can recognize and detect the pressure of a single finger (iPhone and the touchpad of Apple laptops are an exception), the multi-touch unveiled by Han can detect multiple points of contact. The researcher starts the demo with the blank screen while on the computer runs a software capable of tracing the contact points. Han touches the screen first with one finger, then with two, then uses the fingers of both hands: the program detects everything and tracks position and coordinates on the screen.

As he proceeds with the demo, Han points out that touch-sensitive screens are not a new technology and although multi-touch, the screen he is showing to the public is not the highlight of his demonstration. The researcher claims that the screen used in high resolution, low cost and highly scalable but, what matters most, what can be achieved from the point of view of software and interface using this technology. So Jeff Han enters the heart of the demo by loading the first software.

First demoThe program displays the drawing of a malleable and fluid substance on the screen. With his fingers Han modifies the shape of the substance drawn, dragging a particle causes it to move in that direction. With two fingers he touches two distinct particles and bringing his fingers closer, always pressed on the screen, he makes them move towards each other until they are collide and then melt. The fluid representation, the researcher controls the output of the computer by intervening directly with his own hands on the screen. Struck by the video demonstration, we hardly even notice that Jeff Han is not using any type of interface to manage the computer.

Second demoIn one of the most spectacular and revealing phases of the video, Jeff Han loads a software that represents on the screen a desk on which photographs are placed in random order, just as it happens when you place photos on a real table. and two hands to move the photos on the working desktop again, placing the fingers in areas without images, the researcher can move the view of the desk. By placing two fingers inside an image and simply increasing the distance between the fingers, the image is enlarged, vice versa by bringing the two indexes closer the photo becomes smaller. While the audience applauds, the researcher explains that the interface is no longer needed completely disappeared. The interaction with the machine takes place simply and directly with the hands, moreover the computer behaves just as one would expect it to do. Easy to use and immediate even for a person who has never used a PC before in his life.

At this point Han presses a button and, superimposed on the desk with the photographs, a virtual keyboard appears. Even the keyboard can be enlarged or reduced according to the needs or to adapt it to the size of the user's hands and fingers. Always accompanying the demo with the words, Han explains "There are no reasons why we have to conform to physical devices. Today we have a lot of technology and the time has come for all this technology to start adapting to us. "

Other demos and conclusionNASA WorldWind appears on Han's multi-touch screen, an open source software for viewing the globe by satellite view, very similar to the famous Google Earth. Also in this case it is possible to scroll the surface of the planet, enlarge the desired detail or decrease the detail to move again on the surface. Once again all operations are managed smoothly and without problems using only the hands on the multi-touch screen, in most cases only two fingers are sufficient.

Han's impressive demonstration and words sound like the end of too small devices, rough keyboards and mice, especially the end of software and interfaces that require long phases of learning, effort, patience and user adaptation .

The Monterey public, as well as all the people who will see the complete movie thanks to YouTube, can guess that we are facing a real revolution. Let's not forget that Jeff Han's presentation dates back to a year before the iPhone presentation.After seeing the incredible applications of a multi-touch screen, it is natural to imagine that now the computer, the software and the input and output devices can be used to meet the needs of man or rather, they can be designed and developed precisely to be able to interpret the most common and immediate movements and gestures to translate them into commands that the computer can perform.

It is no coincidence that the revolution that Jeff Han was the first to show in the world, implies the disappearance of the interface as we are used to knowing and using it today.

Epilogue and present dayAfter his incredible demo, Jeff Han was contacted by Steve Jobs in person or by Apple to participate in the iPhone project, at least as some sources on the Net say. What certainly for that the brilliant researcher from New York has never joined Apple To completely dismiss the hypothesis, Jobs himself, interviewed by David Pogue, says that Apple has been studying multi touch technology for over 2 and a half years before the presentation of the iPhone, therefore long before even the first Jeff Han demos that date back at least to 2005. In any case Jeff Han was contacted for an opinion immediately after the presentation of the iPhone at Macworld, here is the translation of his answer:

?IPhone really beautiful and, as I have always claimed, if ever there will be a company capable of bringing this technology to the consumer market, this Apple company. I just wish the iPhone was a little bigger so I could use both hands. "

(By L. M. Grandi)