updated 06:30 am EST, Tue February 19, 2008
Apple Multi-Touch Panel
Apple has developed a system that will allow users to define their own gesture-based commands in Mac OS X, according to a recent patent filing. Co-invented by Wayne Westerman, who helped found the FingerWorks company largely credited with pioneering multitouch displays, the patent would let users enter a control panel which adds both basic and advanced levels of multitouch control to the existing trackpad options. In an advanced mode, the software would be capable of recognizing different finger patterns, or chords, and assigning different actions depending on the swiping motion associated with those cords.
The system would be intelligent enough to recognize whether two or more fingers are adjacent to each other and would be aware of fingers used in specific positions, such as the side of the pinky finger and its associated palm.
While described as a general invention that could apply to most any software, the patent applies most of its information to Mac OS X and suggests that a future update could use the technology for specific functions in Apple's in-house software. A four-finger swipe can trigger Dashboard or Expose; more complex pinch and curved swipe motions could cut and paste text as well as select text. A web browser could also see additional shortcuts.
Originally filed just over a year ago, less than one month before the iPhone's public unveiling, the potential patent is no guarantee of an implementation by Apple but suggests that the electronics maker has been aiming to expand the use of multi-touch on computers for a long period of time. The first results of these include the MacBook Air's trackpad, which uses pinch and three-finger swipe gestures in addition to previous mainstays such as two-finger scrolling.