A developer has modified Google’s Android 2.1 mobile operating system to endow Google’s Nexus One smartphone with multitouch, which lets users navigate the device with more than one finger at once.
Wired found out that Steve Kondik, whose developer handle is Cyanogen, Jan. 21 released files and code to enable fellow developers to add multitouch to the device.
Google began selling through its Webstore Jan. 5 and users quickly noticed that multitouch was not active on the device. Pinch-to-zoom, popularized by Apple’s iPhone, is the most common multitouch use case.
Many Android smartphone users want their Android devices to be the iPhone without actually being an iPhone. In other words, they want a quality smartphone that isn’t made by Apple and ruled by its Draconian application farm.
Some Android devices, such as the Android 1.5- based HTC Droid Eris, was released to the market with active pinch-to-zoom capability. However, neither the Android 2.0-based Motorola Droid nor the 2.1-based Nexus One were released with active pinch-to-zoom.
The absence of this function has been a the source of great consternation for some users, and many speculate the reasons are legal in nature.
Some believe Apple has locked down multitouch patents and guards them. However, Google Android creator Andy Rubin has said Google would consider activating multitouch on the Nexus One in the future.
Multitouch on the Nexus One looks like this. However, there are two caveats to Kondik’s solution, one trivial, one serious. Kondik said hackers who modify their Nexus One will initially lose their bookmarks and browser settings by doing this. Second, hacking the phone could also void its warranty.
Phone makers don’t like it when their devices suffer jailbreaks. Google, which is imposing a $350 equipment recovery fee for Nexus One owners who buy the phone and cancel their T-Mobile service within the first four months, is likely no exception.
Meanwhile, Erick Tseng, product manager of Android at Google, attempted to clarify Google’s position when he told Engadget Jan. 19:
““When people say ‘why doesn’t Android have multitouch?’ it’s not a question of ‘multitouch’… I want to reframe the question. We have multitouch — what people are asking for is specific implementations in the UI that use multitouch, like pinch-to-zoom, or chording on the keyboard.”“
Engadget’s Nilay Patel cut through the semantic tap-dancing, noting that the lack of specific multitouch implementations is still a huge issue and become a growing distraction for Android. In fact, he compared it to the brouhaha generated by the lack of copy-and-paste before iPhone OS 3.0 came out.
Some folks are just harder to please than others. Patel also asked the right questions about why Google didn’t use Motorola’s pinch-to-zoom code in the Droid, but used HTC’s code in the Droid Eris, only to not use it in its new Nexus One.
““Until someone can answer these questions in a reasonable way, they’re going to keep coming up over and over again,” Patel noted. “Google prides itself on transparency and openness, and a secret deal forbidding Android from having pinch-to-zoom flies in the face of that culture.”“
Could be that Google has an agreement with Apple to not use pinch-to-zoom in certain instances, putting Google at a major disadvantage as it seeks to expand Android’s footprint in the uber-competitive smartphone market.