Nokia may be excited about gesture control on the N900, and Apple may be all over multitouch patents that make multiple gestures possible, but Google’s taken the next step, and built a programmable Gestures API into Android 1.6.
Of course Android already supports gesture controls, but until now if developers wanted to implement their own flavor of gesture it required lots of complex code. The process has now been simplified through a neatly-designed gesture API available to programmers using the Android 1.6 version of the software development kit.
The whole idea is that you can design new gestures, which are stored in your code and then automatically recognized by the system when the user swipes their finger over the phone’s touchscreen. Pre-programmed gestures can be applied anywhere in the finished app–such as in-game, or in pop-up control menus, and you can even write the app so the user can define their own in-app swipes. Google makes a simple and compelling case for the new system by demoing it in a fantasy game whereby new gestures equate to new spells to cast–basically a perfect situation for programmable gesture control (and familiar to players of the desktop fantasy game Black & White).
Powerful though this new API is–and we’ll probably only find out how really potent it is as new uses emerge–it’s also a move by Google to try to do something else too: Attract developers to Android. Touchscreen and accelerometer-controls have already given birth to thousands of games for the iPhone and iPod touch. They offered essentially a totally new way for users to interact with games and other apps, so by enabling soft-programmable gestures, Google’s hoping to attract innovative app developers to write for Android.
It’s a clever move by Google, and it comes at the same time Palm is trying to attract new developers to the WebOS platform. In Palm’s case it’s not via some clever coding, though: Palm’s making lots of the app submission process free, as long as the final product is open-source, and it’s waiving the approvals process and app-store distribution channel. These moves are clearly a response to Apple’s dominance of the mobile apps market with the iPhone and iTunes. Will they work? It’s hard to tell–there are 85,000 apps and counting already available through Apple’s system.