One wonderful effect of the iPad release is that it has made multi-touch computing mainstream. If you want to argue that the iPhone accomplished this, fine. But the iPad unleashes a world of possibility due simply to the size of the multi-touch screen. We now have a platform that allows two-handed multi-touch interactions. The possibilities are thrilling.
Bill Buxton, writing about the history of multi-touch systems makes a memorable comparison. Multi-touch, he says, allows us to:
…go beyond [the] simple pointing, button pushing and dragging that has dominated our interaction with computers in the past. The best way that I can relate this to the everyday world is to have you imagine eating Chinese food with only one chopstick, trying to pinch someone with only one fingertip, or giving someone a hug with – again – the tip of one finger or a mouse. In terms of pointing devices like mice and joysticks are concerned, we do everything by manipulating just one point around the screen – something that gives us the gestural vocabulary of a fruit fly.
So guess what iPad software designers? You get to work for humans now.
Some of the most exciting iPad interfaces that I’ve seen are in the music space. Looptastic HD is a loop-based performance application that lets you mix together beats, bass-lines and other sound loops in a live performance.
After a moment or two of orientation, I found myself immersed in flow and making compelling music with two hands: using two fingers on my left hand to adjust two different track levels on the left stereo track while at the same time using two fingers to make a similar adjustment on the right; using one hand to control the cross-fader while using the other hand on the X-Y control to manipulate sound effects. Looptastic HD is exciting because it is explicitly designed from the ground up to be used this way: with two-hands on.
Another category of iPad software is using the multi-touch capability to re-implement software versions of the UIs of physical devices.
The problem with iElectribe is that it’s essentially a novelty product. Despite the success of the original, the user interface of the physical Electribe sucks: the complexity and the obscurity of the controls forgiven by users who had few other ways to access those features at that price. But iElectribe won’t create new lovers of the old paradigm. It will intstead satisfy people who have learned to work in a given way, and it will soon be bypassed by next-generation products that go beyond the limits of the physical.
More successful products are taking advantage of the iPad to replace high-end control surfaces with low-cost software implementations. These products are taking controls that work really well in the real world–that have evolved over decades–but have been un-reproducable in software until now.
Products like the AC-7 Pro Control Surface don’t stray far from physical product representation. It works because it is copying a model that is not only familiar (like the KORG), but actually works well.
You can see the future coming in products like Entrackment. Though it’s still feature set is still limited, you can see the approach already: the product uses a hybrid model, using basic idioms from physical control surfaces where they make sense, and implementing software-based idioms like context-sensitive display where they make sense. Look at how those software knobs communicate their state more richly than physical knobs and sliders ever could.