Touching Print and Digital Reading

The iPhone/iTouch interface is very appealing. Apple have implemented this technology with their legendary and reliable obsession with the details of user interaction.

Touchscreens are not new. ATMs have had touch screens for 15+ years and the first touch screen computers were introduced more than 20 years ago. But Apple have grabbed a really creative and deep application for the touch screen.The touch screen functionality is used for all the interface aspects of the iPhone/Touch, since it replaces the mouse and the keyboard, but the killer is the way that images are held, panned and manipulated on such a small device by your fingers. The gestures with which the user can slide an image on the iTouch, or pinch (to shrink), or spread (to enlarge) the image are totally intuitive and compelling.

The images look so cool because the Apple system holds them independently of their inherent resolution. So reading a magazine in such a small window is feasible, because the user can ‘blow the text up’ to a scale which suits reading and then slide the image around. No need for scroll bars. This magic works on the Safari which runs in the iPhone/iTouch, it does not yet work on the Safari that runs in your desktop Mac. The new version of the Apple operating system Leopard, supports ‘resolution independence’. So it should not be too long before we will be able to seamlessly shrink or expand JPEGS or other images in the browser – Safari may innovate on this; but Internet Explorer will not be far behind. Microsoft have Seadragon, their own intriguing resolution independent environment.

In a world of touchscreens and resolution independence, fingers are going to be very important to us in the way that we interact with digital editions. We are going to be poking screens to link to referenced documents, stabbing phone numbers or emails to connect to advertisers, squeezing and spreading our digits on digital texts which we do not strictly touch, but which we caress and coast over our virtual workspace. Could it be that this regular use of our fingers (“let your fingers do the reading”) will in fact endear us to e-reading? Its a good possibility. Each time your fingers move over and interact with a digital edition your body is engaging with digital print in ways which will confirm and consolidate intellectual involvement with the text.