Multi-touch trackpads – just a gimmick or what?!

Multi-touch trackpads – seems like every computer manufacturer nowadays has several models touting them. But having used multi-touch trackpads for several weeks now, as well as a ‘single touch’ trackpad for my own notebook, I’m wondering right now if multi-touch trackpads are just a gimmick. Seems I love single touch trackpads because I don’t have to shift my entire right hand each time I want to do something.

  • Tapping and clicking – Both single and multi-touch trackpads can do these.
  • Scrolling – Single-touch trackpads typically have scroll zones on the right side – having ‘average’ sized hands, I can easily reach for the scroll zone using my thumb without moving my entire hand off the keyboard. Nice when I just want to scroll down… say a Word document… and continue typing. In contrast, multi-touch trackpads need me to move my entire hand down to operate the ‘two finger scroll’ function. What an inconvenience. (Yes I have tried ‘dual thumb’ scrolling before but it’s awkward)
  • Zooming – Yes, we’ve all heard about the famous ‘pinch zoom’ function of multi-touch devices ever since the iPhone made its debut in 2007… but that still needs two fingers and hand-shifting. Before multi-touch trackpads became mainstream on consumer notebooks, I believe I survived just fine (and better) using the mentioned scroll-zone for zooming, or in Firefox/IE, Ctrl+scroll-zone. By now you would have figured that the scroll zone does the exact same thing as your conventional mouse wheel (in case you didn’t know).
    Pinch zooming is certainly important on a device lacking buttons, and to conserve ‘space’ (ie, on a multi-touch display). But on a trackpad, I’d say zooming is not something that deserves its own ‘gesture’/control. It’s not like the keyboard +/- keys or existing scroll-zone didn’t do its job well enough to be replaced by multi-touch.
  • Rotation – Fine, this is a multi-touch trackpad exclusive, and not available on single-touch trackpads. But then again, I didn’t know the world REALLY had to have a rotate function implemented directly into the trackpad. If I wanted to rotate a photo, I’d hit the ‘rotate left’ or ‘rotate right’ icon in Photo Viewer. If I wanted to rotate a whole bunch of photos, I’d use the batch processing feature in Photoshop.
  • Chiral scrolling – Technically this is a function that only needs one finger… yet it’s strange that only ‘newer’ (multi-t0uch) trackpads can do this. Again, it doesn’t do anything that the single-touch scroll zone can’t do.

To sum things up, I really don’t think that multi-touch trackpads are a crucial feature or dealbreaker when it comes to shopping for a notebook. In fact, I’d take a single-touch trackpad over a multi-touch one anytime (apparently HP thinks that too with their business notebooks). Sure, multi-touch trackpads are nice to have and cool to show off, but they get old after a while (and it’s not like they make existing tasks like rotation or zooming any easier). A buddy of mine wanted to go back to a ‘normal’ trackpad after two weeks with the multi-touch trackpad on his new Envy 15. Another guy I know who loved talking about the ‘coolness’ of multi-touch recently changed his mind after spending time with his new Asus notebook’s multi-touch trackpad.

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