How to use touch gestures on almost any notebook
3rd Feb 2010 | 10:22
We try Synaptics' multi-touch app
Touch is the new black. If you can't pinch, swipe or tap, it's just not sexy.
But most of the time when you're using a PC you're going to need to use a keyboard. If it's a tablet PC a touchscreen makes sense, but intuitive as the touch control in Windows 7 is, reaching up to touch a screen that's on the other side of your keyboard isn't ergonomic when you have your fingers in place to type.
Most notebooks already have touch input sat right between your thumbs, but for some inexplicable reason many notebook vendors ship a trackpad driver that ignores most of the clever things you can do with the surface.
The new multi-touch trackpads offer the most control: you can zoom with two fingers, bring up an application launcher with three or draw a spiral to scroll sideways.
Keen to get people using more of the capabilities of even the more common single-touch trackpads, Synaptics plans to add much more powerful gestures to its free driver, the Synaptics Gesture Suite.
You can download a beta version called Scrybe from www.uscrybe.com (and the gestures will be included in the next version of SGS). One word of warning: like an increasing number of downloads, the installer defaults to also installing a browser toolbar (in this case Yahoo); presumably it's a way for Synaptics to make a little extra money from a free download.
Installing Scrybe is a good way of checking whether you have a single touch or multi-touch trackpad; if it's multi-touch you can bring up the Scrybe control by pressing three fingers on the trackpad at once. If not you can press and hold Shift + Ctrl while you draw your gesture or use the Scrybe icon in the system tray to bring up the Scrybe drawing area (just clicking it opens a browser with a tutorial), but this is more awkward (and takes both hands).
The drawing area shows you what you're drawing, so you're not gesturing 'blind' and the fact that you need this shows one of the limitations of Scrybe.
GESTURE FAIL:Complex gestures like @ are harder; red tells you Scrybe didn't recognise the gesture
You can draw the ^ gesture that pastes, the 'V' that launches your media player (v for video), or the backswipe for undo without really looking. It's a quick way to get to Facebook (an 'f' you don't have to cross) but it's not really faster than Ctrl-V to paste or Ctrl-Z to undo and if you've got Windows 7, clicking the Word icon on the taskbar is at least as fast as gesturing 'w' .
More complex gestures are harder to draw without looking: by the time you've drawn an @ symbol on your touchpad you could have opened your email client by hand (especially as the default is to open not the email app you've made the default in Windows but Yahoo web mail).
You also have to remember the gesture (although there are six gestures listed next to the drawing area, including the gesture to open the control panel to get reminded of the rest); and you have to start the gesture where you have enough room to finish it and draw it in the right direction.
TOO YAHOO:Scrybe is too fond of Yahoo; when you get @ right you still have to point it at your own email tool
Not only are a square and a rectangle different gestures, but depending on which way you draw it, a rectangle opens Yahoo or your photo editor.
At the moment, Scrybe is an interesting idea but not flexible enough to be really useful. The default search engine you get when you draw a ? is Yahoo and S (think $) loads Yahoo Finance, which may explain bundling the Yahoo toolbar.
Mail and finance are the only two gestures you can edit; otherwise you have to remember that G is for Google or make your own b for Bing shortcut.
You get the choice of letters that aren't in use, numbers and some simple gestures for shortcuts,. Scrybe would be more useful if you could do multiple steps; you can double-click a word to select it and gesture ? or 'r' to look it up on Yahoo or Wikipedia – but you can't change that to look up the word on Google, and you can't make your own multi-step gestures.
NEW GESTURE:You can make your own gesture but only using the letters, numbers and shapes Scrybe already knows
With more gestures – especially the option to design your own from scratch and have it run a sequence of commands –Scrybe could be worth the effort of learning gestures, and we'll be interested to see what's in the final Gesture Suite. But a trackpad is always going to be a little small for real touch.
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