Apple is betting that the iPhone's breakthrough in the way we interact with mobile phones will transfer over to notebooks.
The new MacBook Pros and MacBooks introduced Tuesday aren't all that much different from the ones that were on sale yesterday. Sure, they've got Intel's new Penryn chips, and more potent configurations, but for the most part, it's the same laptop. That is, with one notable exception.
Apple brought the gesture-recognition technology first introduced on the MacBook Air over to the new MacBook Pro systems, which will likely ship in much larger volumes than the MacBook Air and introduce many more of Apple's customers to the idea of trackpad gesture recognition. The technology allows you to zoom in and out of pictures, for example, by using the same pinch-and-expand gesture used on the iPhone.
The question now is whether this is something that will boost Mac sales, which have been doing pretty well on their own up to this point. It's hard to assess the impact of the multitouch technology in the early days of the MacBook Air, which has only been out a little over a month and appeals to only a subset of the notebook-buying population.
It's clear, however, that the iPhone's multitouch user interface is perhaps its greatest asset. And Synaptics, which makes TouchPads used in a wide variety of notebooks PCs, expects several PC vendors to introduce similar technology later this year on their own notebooks.
At CES, Synaptics introduced a new TouchPad that incorporates the same style of pinching and zooming as well as a technology it calls "Momentum," which allows you to flick your finger toward the edge of the trackpad and watch the cursor continue to scroll in that direction, even after you lift your finger from the pad.
Microsoft is likewise hard at work investigating the potential for multitouch interfaces in computers. Its Surface project isn't exactly a mainstream idea yet, but it's a step toward a future where computers are designed around how people like to work with technology, rather than forcing us to adapt to the computer.
Wired brought up an interesting point last week, however, as it looked into Apple's chances of patenting this technology. Apple secretly acquired Fingerworks, a company started by two professors at the University of Delaware, in 2005 in order to get its hands on the MultiTouch fingertip recognition technology.
If Apple is successful with its patent efforts, and other PC and smartphone companies develop their own gesture-recognition technology in response, we could see a world where pinching on a MacBook might zoom, but the same gesture might close a window on a ThinkPad, or open a file on a mobile phone.
Would that be a step backward for the industry? Maybe, although people are able to deal with the fact that Macs use different keystrokes than PCs for certain tasks, or that some cars use a console gearshift while others have a floor-mounted shifter.
I'm curious to see how this technology drives PC sales over the coming year. Is advanced gesture-recognition something that would cause you to upgrade to a new system?