Pinching and the Droid

Joshua Topolsky, writing for Engadget, gives the Droid a very positive review overall. But regarding something I’d been wondering about, here’s what he writes about multi-touch:

As you have probably heard (or guessed), there’s no multitouch on this device. That’s clearly an issue with Android 2.0 and choices that Google is making about user interface — we’re fairly certain there’s nothing technically holding back the DROID from utilizing multitouch input, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see some tweaked ROMs hit the information superhighway with the functionality onboard. […]

Note: Android 2.0 does support multitouch events, but the functionality isn’t implemented here.

I, alas, don’t have a Droid in hand, but my understanding of the multi-touch situation is as follows. First, “multi-touch” is too general a term. What Topolsky means in his italicized note is that the Android 2.0 OS does have APIs to track multiple simultaneous touch events. Game developers, for example, should be able to write “multi-touch” games equivalent to those on the iPhone. This was not possible with early versions of Android.

So from an API perspective, Android 2.0 allows developers to “see” multiple touch events, but, from a UI perspective, Android 2.0 does not use pinching as a standard gesture.

The big multi-touch gesture that Apple uses in the iPhone is pinching — in particular, pinch-to-zoom. You pinch to zoom in MobileSafari. You pinch to zoom photos. You pinch to zoom maps.

There is no pinching on a Droid running Android 2.0. As for why, my somewhat-informed best guess is that it is related to Apple’s patent applications for the pinch-to-zoom gesture. If so, this stinks.

It’s not like no one else has implemented pinch-to-zoom, though: Palm uses it in WebOS, pretty much just like in the iPhone OS. It’s such an unbelievably useful, convenient, obvious, natural gesture, it’s hard for me to imagine using a handheld device without it.

And then adding to the intrigue, today came this demo video from Eldar Murtazin of Mobile Review, showing the Motorola Milestone, the GSM version of the Droid which will purportedly go on sale in Europe later this month.1 As noted by Chris Davies at Slash Gear, the demo clearly shows support for pinch-to-zoom in both the Photos app (around the 3:00 mark) and web browser (around the 5:45 mark). In both cases, pinch-zooming on the Milestone seems very jerky — the zooming seems to happen all at once after the pinch gesture stops, very much unlike on the iPhone, where zooming smoothly animates live, as you pinch. My sources suggest that this is a Motorola customization, not code from Google. (Likewise for multi-touch gestures supported by HTC Android phones.)

So it would appear that Palm is willing to risk a lawsuit with Apple over this, and Google is not. The situation certainly brings to mind a gesture of some sort.

  1. A key advantage Apple has over many of its competitors is simple, consistent, worldwide branding. For three years, Apple has released one new phone in either June or July: iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS. Everyone, everywhere, just calls them all “iPhones”, or “the iPhone”. Even in the case of the just-released Chinese iPhone, which lacks Wi-Fi hardware, the name is unchanged. iPhone, iPhone. iPhone.

    Palm gets it — they’re using the “Pre” name worldwide, as they begin adding carriers outside the U.S. HTC, on the other hand, seems to use different names for the same hardware in different countries. And “Droid” is a Verizon brand, not a Motorola brand, so that phone will need a different name on other carriers around the world. (Update: But, Palm also has the new Pixi, which has a completely different name than the Pre but runs the same OS, which is called WebOS, so perhaps they haven’t really learned anything from Apple.) ↩︎