Gestures as a language not a technology

John Gruber, commenting on a review of the Droid, made a comment about multi-touch which got me thinking:

The big multi-touch gesture that Apple uses in the iPhone is pinching – in particular, pinch-to-zoom. You pinch to zoom in MobileSafari. You pinch to zoom photos. You pinch to zoom maps.

There is no pinching on a Droid running Android 2.0. As for why, my somewhat-informed best guess is that it is related to Apple’s patent applications for the pinch-to-zoom gesture. If so, this stinks. – John Gruber, Daring Fireball

Personally, I’m all about innovation. Allowing an innovator to benefit from his or her innovation through patents is what makes businesses innovate in the first place. At the same time however, gestures are not innovative, nor should they be patentable. Pinch-to-zoom is just common sense. How else would you do it with one motion? If Apple wants to patent something, patent the technology that allows the device to recognize multi touch and react to it, don’t patent the gestures themselves.

Gestures should be treated as a language, like sign language for touch devices. We need a common set of gestures to interact with all touch enabled devices. I shouldn’t have to lean a different language just to use a different device.

This situation reminds me of the hyperlink fiasco from many years ago when BT contacted Prodigy and 16 other ISPs, including AOL asking them to buy a hyperlink licence. If Apple goes down this path and tries to enforce pinch-to-zoom as “theirs” I would only hope it, as well as any other gesture parents, would lose.