Multi-touch vs. multi-touch: the new iPod nano

Posted on Sep 7, 2010 in iPhone, Opinions, UI Design

Apple recently introduced their 6th generation iPod nano, the first non-clickwheel nano. Instead, the new nano uses a multi-touch interface that’s similar to the interface found on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

But just how similar is the nano’s multi-touch interface when compared with the real deal? Let’s look at some of the typical actions you might want to do:

As you can see, some of the most important actions use different multi-touch gestures on the iPod nano then they do on real iOS devices. If Apple sees the nano as the device that will introduce people to multi-touch, it seems like a curious decision to not unify the gestures across all multi-touch platforms.

Tap and hold to get back to the menu screen looks like a particularly annoying gesture for such an important command: not only does it force you to find an area on the tiny screen that doesn’t trigger another function, it also requires a slight delay, which means you won’t know if you’ve hit an empty space until you wait the second or two to see if the gesture is going to work. In contrast, the iPhone’s home button is extremely responsive and even novice users immediately grasp that a single press will instantly put them back on the home screen.

You can see what I mean in this engadget video, where Ross Miller occasionally struggles to get back to the home screen:

Apple clearly sees multi-touch as the new mouse and keyboard, but using different gestures for the same basic tasks strikes me as the equivalent of suddenly reprogramming a users mouse buttons to launch exposé.
I’m sure these discrepancies are not going to be a major issue for anyone upgrading from an iPod nano to an iPhone or iPad though. The interface looks good and that will probably be enough to ensure Apple sells millions this holiday season. Whether a multi-touch interface on such a tiny screen proves to be practical in everyday use (I wonder how the actors in the commercial are changing songs without being able to see the screen?), is something we’ll presumably find out when the first reviews start to trickle in next week.

Think I’m full of shit? Buy the new iPod nano at
“Golly, he’s right!?” Treat yourself to a new iPod touch at instead.