Before tablets, the closest things had have to gestures and touching on a computer are trackpads that have become ubiquitous on laptops. Especially Macbooks. My first laptop was the Powerbook 500, the first laptop that I know with a trackpad. It was awesome to see folks marvel at it and lamented how their trackballs would lose traction or require cleaning.
Since then, Apple and other PC makers have improved on the trackpad, but especially Apple. And then came the multitouch features of the iPhone. And today, we now have the iPad. Of course, there are dozens if not hundreds of other devices out there that have similar features.
Interestingly, by watching babies, they seem to be more at ease with screens that respond to their touching. An author gave a Blackberry to 20 different babies and they instinctively went to touch the screen. Obviously, nothing happened. This The Unofficial Apple Weblog suggests that perhaps Apple simply has tapped into the innate response we already possess when we see something new.
We want to touch it. And with the iPad and other tablets, perhaps we are only at the very tip of what we can make our tablets do. And I've seen it with my nephews. I recall the older one ways trying to touch the screen of my Macbook to make things move. And now, he's more apt with his hand-me-down iPad than my mom is with hers.
And his brother, who is going to be two soon, already knows his way around the iPad as well. All by touching.
Amazing. And perhaps this is the key to success that Apple has found where others have floundered. It's not about adding more features which add to the complexity of the device but rather to keep it simple so that the device can do what it was mean to do.
There's a running joke among Apple fans that Steve Jobs and Apple consistently create new products and features that we did not know we needed until they showed it to us. Maybe that's not the case at all. Maybe Apple is just better at showing us "hey, look, this works. And its easy to use".