October 28, 2008

Surprise! Google Android G1 Apparently Can "Multi-Touch" After All

Greetings. As consumer electronics devices become increasingly complex internally, the differences between hardware capabilities and software limitations can be ever more difficult to discern from the outside. And intellectual property issues can cast a long shadow on both the hardware and software aspects.

Case in point -- the HTC Google Android G1. A frequently cited "shortcoming" of the G1 (though in my opinion by no means a crucial issue) is the supposed like of iPhone-style "multi-touch" (also known as "multitouch" -- that is, the iPhone "pinch" and "expand" touchscreen gestures).

Most reviewers have assumed that this is a fundamental limitation of the G1 hardware -- a presumed inability to sense more than one simultaneous touch on the screen, like an old-style keyboard without key rollover.

This appears to be an incorrect assumption.

With the G1 now in the wild, videos are appearing that seem to definitively demonstrate -- through clever manipulation of the Android interface -- that multi-touch capabilities are present in the G1 hardware. Here is one example. Here's another (considerably more interesting) one. There are various other similar demonstrations as well.

This leads us to a fascinating question. If the hardware actually is multi-touch capable as it appears to be, why isn't Android making use of this ability?

Opinions run the gamut from a possible desire by Google for a universal hardware "lowest common denominator" interface model, to lack of implementation time for the initial Android release.

But a darker speculation -- and at this point it's only speculation -- is that Android multi-touch may be running afoul of our old "friend" intellectual property disputes -- in this case a variety of patents and patent applications (from Apple and other entities) related to the entire area of "multi-touch" interfaces.

It's possible that we're looking at yet another highly illustrative example -- as we've seen so many times in the electronics and Internet worlds -- of the patent pit that we've dug for ourselves.

As I learn more about the G1/Android multi-touch saga I'll let you know.

In the meantime, it should be fascinating to see how the various stakeholders involved in this area react if and when Android updates, external Android modifications, and/or third party applications appear that find ways to make use of the G1's seemingly present multi-touch hardware.

Let's just hope that this doesn't turn into yet another field day for the lawyers that leaves the rest of us twisting slowly in the breeze.


Posted by Lauren at October 28, 2008 09:50 AM | Permalink
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