Nearly every Android phone that has been released supports multitouch, but Google has refused to implement it throughout the operating system and most of its native apps. Google made the design decision early on that they wanted to use one-handed operations to complete most phone functions.
One-handed operation is a great idea – I love being able to control almost every part of my phone using only my thumb. However, there are a ton of tasks that could be completed easier (and faster) by using two fingers. It is not a question of one or the other; some tasks were made for one finger and some for two.
The most obvious implementation of multitouch that everyone wants is pinch zoom. This makes precision zooming possible in the browser, high definition photos, and maps. The top handset makers like HTC and Motorola have recognized that people want this feature and they have implemented it on their Android phones where they control the software.
On the Google experience Android phones, where Google controls the software (like the G1, MT3G, Droid, Nexus One), most of the native apps do not implement simultaneous touches. Only the virtual keyboard uses multitouch to improve error detection.
Everyone has asked Google why they left out basic multitouch implementations, but they have had no luck in getting a clear answer. Most of the time all we hear is, “We are looking into it”.
Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky recently asked Google’s Eric Tseng the burning question and this is how he responded:
“When people say ‘why doesn’t Android have multitouch?’ it’s not a question of ‘multitouch’… I want to reframe the question. We have multitouch — what people are asking for is specific implementations in the UI that use multitouch, like pinch-to-zoom, or chording on the keyboard.”Eric TsengSenior Product Manager for Android
As you can see, that is not really an answer. When Topolsky mentioned the conspiracy theory that Apple was blocking pinch zoom, he was met with a smile and “No comment”.
Hutchison and Cyanogen to the rescue
Deep down, I believe Google will wake up one day and give in to the multitouch implementation demands. Based on how long it has taken Google to implement other requests (like app storage on the SD card), it could be awhile before we see this happen. Thankfully, the dev community has stepped up and provided a temporary hack while we wait on Google.
Luke Hutchison has ported his multitouch controller to Eclair and Cyanogen has released a modified browser that implements pinch zoom. These are the same guys responsible for many of the multitouch apps on the G1 and myTouch so hopefully we will see other modified apps for the Nexus One soon.
For anyone who has already hacked their Nexus One, it only takes about 30 seconds to install the modified browser. I tested this hack on my Nexus One and it works just as expected. It is a great start and hopefully we will have pinch zoom in the gallery in the next couple of weeks.
A quick video demo of the hack is provided below.
I doubt we will ever know the real truth behind all the multitouch conspiracies, but at least the users who really want it can get it. We thank HTC and Motorola for implementing multitouch features into Android and hope they continue to expand its use.
The real question now is: How much longer will Google ignore the demand for multitouch implementation and continue to get hammered by the reviewers who complain that Android ‘doesn’t do multitouch’ when it actually does?
Does anyone believe the Apple conspiracies? Why would Google not implement multitouch functions in their native Android apps when everyone else is doing it? Do they actually believe that one-handed operation is superior to two?
It almost reminds me of Apple sticking to a one button mouse.