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Who Invented Multi-Touch?

What is Multi-Touch Technology in the First Place?

Multi-touch is a touch sensing surface which recognizes two or points of contact at the same time. Although we associate multi-touch with advanced gestures (flicking, pinching, spreading, rotating, etc.), multi-touch has its innovative origins in discrete actions, such as simply pressing one or more buttons, without any advanced gesturing. Furthermore, multi-touch, in the beginning, did not overlay the touch sensors on top of the screen. The technology gradually evolved to bring the touching and seeing in one seamless device.

Who Invented Multi-Touch?

Who Invented Multi-Touch?Apple may have brought us the first multi-touch device for the masses when it came out with the iPhone in 2007. However, just like the graphical user interface in the first Macintosh, Steve Jobs and Apple did not invent multi-touch technology. Rather, it was a slow progression of research and innovation, decades in the making.

Below are some notable developments in multi-touch technology, culminating with the iPhone in 2007.

1982 – First Multi-Touch System – Nimish Mehta , University of Toronto

The very first multi-touch system designed for computer input was a frosted glass panel with a camera that detected finger motion. This simple interface, which depended on a camera, allowed for multi-touch picture drawing.

1983 – Pioneer of Rich Gestures – Myron Krueger

Myron Krueger created a vision-based multi-touch system which enabled a rich set of gestures, including ones that were similar to today's pinch-to-zoom gesture. You can view his hand gestures in this 1988 video. Although his system was vision based, the gestural interaction you see on your mobile phone got its first start on Myron's system.

1984 – First Multi-Touch Screen – Bob Boie, Bell Labs, Murray Hill NJ

The invention of the first multi-touch screen used a transparent capacitive array of touch sensors overlaid on a CRT. Unlike multi-touch tablets, in which the touch input and visual output are separate from one another, the visual outputs of multi-touch screens are directly beneath the touch sensors.

1992 – Flip Keyboard – Bill Buxton

The multi-touch pad you see on today's Macbooks had its origins in a multi-touch pad integrated into the bottom of a keyboard.

2001 – Diamond Touch – Mitsubishi Research Lab

Diamond Touch, created by Mitsubishi Research Labs, is a multi-touch system that projects an image onto a table, resembling the multi-touch technology in the iPhone. In fact, its technology is so close to the iPhone's that Samsung's legal team brought in a Diamond Touch table to try to prove that Apple's pinch-to-zoom patent was not valid. Take a look at this video and see for yourself.

The full history of multi-touch systems is published in a white paper by Bill Buxton, a pioneer in multi-touch interfaces.

Back to November 2012 Newsletter

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