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The iPad's Interface and Gestures: What's Actually New (Video)

The iPad is a gargantuan iPhone, perhaps more precisely than many hoped. But, if you look closely, you can see hints of what's truly coming next.

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There are a few new scraps of gestures and interface bits, all thanks to the larger screen, which you can see sprinkled throughout the keynote video:

True multi-finger multitouch
Two finger swipes, three finger twirls—multitouch gestures that weren't really possible on the iPhone's tiny screen, unless you're a mouse. This is what people were excited about, and we only get a taste. Though, the gesture Phil uses to drag multiple slides in Keynote, using two hands, looks a bit awkward and belabored.

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Popovers
The most significant new UI element of the iPad vs. the iPhone are popovers, which you see all over the place when you need to dive further into the interface, or make a choice from a list (since blowing up lists to full screen size doesn't make a whole lot of sense now). A box pops up, and has a list of choices or options, which might take you down through multiple levels of lists, like you see in the demo of Numbers, with selecting functions to calculate. Gruber has more on popovers, and why they're significant, here.

Media Navigator
In some ways, the media navigator Phil Schiller shows off in iWork is the most interesting bit to me: That's what Apple sees as replacing a file browser in this type of computer. It's a popover too, technically.

Long touches and drags
Lots of touch, hold and drag, something you didn't see much of in the iPhone. With more UI elements, and layers of them, you need a way of distinguishing what type of motion action you're trying to engage.

These are all pretty basic, so far, building right on top of the iPhone's established interface, but it points to the future: More fingers, more gestures, more layered UI elements and built-in browsers.

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DISCUSSION

My initial reaction was that Apple dropped the ball by failing to give the iPad a clear purpose, a creative text input method, or a whole new interface. It was completely lazy, and exactly what everybody expected it to be, a rare miss for them.

I still believe all those things, but the more I think about it the more I think it doesn't matter. Even if Apple didn't do anything new (this is essentially the same thing as a myriad of Android tablets floating around out there), their inherent popularity means that they are the first to introduce a tablet that has a real chance of becoming a thriving software platform.

Apple decided not to innovate with the iPad, but just by putting it out there they're enabling a thriving community of independent developers to innovate in their place.

They started the ball rolling by porting their office suite, which was probably meant to trigger a reaction from their developer community that tablet apps should be as innovative as smartphone apps but as in-depth and multipurpose as desktop apps. If we actually hit a stride where that kind of software is widely available then maybe this thing will be the big success that everybody was expecting it to be.

I feel kind of dirty almost endorsing an Apple product, especially one as lazy and overblown as this one, but the fact remains that there's a lot of potential for touchscreen tablet software and even though similar hardware has existed for nearly a decade, nobody has ever managed to cultivate a developer community around it (which Apple gets for free because of the iPhone).