Gesture (On PC) Is Out

Georges van Hoegaerden
Georges van Hoegaerden
Founder, Author, and Managing Director of methodEVA.

Gestural recognition applied to a PC based interface is like replacing the wheels of a car with skis.

Mac OS 10.7, also commonly referred to by its nickname Lion, proved to me that gesture-driven navigation for non-tablet computing is out. After a day of struggling to adopt gesture navigation from both the built-in trackpad on a MacBook Pro and an external trackpad, gesture recognition on a Mac produces too many false positives and false negatives that turn gesture navigation on a non-tablet device into a complete nightmare. And as a result, I have not only turned most gesture recognition off but also many of the excellent new navigational capabilities in Lion it was meant to induce.

Gesture recognition (hand or full-body) remains a very inexact science that only performs well when the interpretation of commands is equally forgiving as its navigation. As the former CEO of a full-body gestural recognition company, I should know.

The success of gestural recognition is highly dependent on the requirement of the application and the perception of its end-user. Complicated PC gestures such as rotation of images cannot be confused with switching to another application, or otherwise, the end-user will spend more time recovering from the wrongful navigation than performing the original task at hand. More frequently than not my effort to jump back in Safari was interpreted as changing to another application, or vice versa. That is not helped by the extreme sensitivity of the MacBook Pro trackpad which seems to understand gestures even when your fingers hover idly and rest slightly above it.

Gestural technologies do not need to be accurate in all circumstances. Nintendo’s Wii (device controlled gesture) and Microsoft Kinect (full-body) are incredibly inaccurate from an absolute perspective, yet provide the user with reliable proximity of movement that games on the fly can compensate for and extrapolate to more grandiose. And games rely on the imperfection of its users to keep challenging the most experienced gamer into never being good enough ever to stop playing. Gestural recognition on the iPad is tailored to each application and selectively turned off when not needed, restricting incorrect interpretation and usage, and thus making it more reliable.

But a Personal Computer is a different application. It uses a mouse pointer to identify precisely what action to take where, it requires absolute navigational performance, not relative and mixes local with global navigational instructions. And while the gestural advancements in the technology industry are impressive, they should be applied to those applications where simplicity and relative performance are paramount. Gestural technologies are not only incompatible with mouse pointer-based interaction, but they also prove to produce too many false interpretations to become a reliable paradigm of the PC operating system.

So, I am disabling most of the gestural recognition in the preference pane, not because I don’t want my iPad and MacBook to behave the same, but simply because they are not.

[Links: Mac OSX, Lion]

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