Why no multitouch on the G1? Because Apple said so.


When the G1 launched back in October, a common question clanged through the halls: wheres the multitouch? When a few clever minds managed to patch in their own multitouch support, proving that the hardware could handle it, things got even more perplexing. Had Google just not ironed out the multitouch workings enough to support it in this first device, or had Apple’s patent stranglehold scared them away?

According to details given to VentureBeat by an Android team member, it’s something along the lines of the latter. If their source’s retellings ring true, Apple “asked” Google not to make multitouch a part of the device. it’s unclear whether “asked” here means “Please don’t include multitouch support” or “Please don’t include multitouch support, or our lawyers will eat your face.”

The source also adds that they were glad Google didn’t challenge Apple’s request. Google and Apple have a rather strong relationship, especially in the mobile realm – the iPhone comes out of the box with Google Maps installed, Google’s search engine in the browser’s top bar, and Apple has seemingly turned their heads on the fact that Google’s voice search application relies on restricted APIs.

While it might work out for everyone involved for the time being, I can’t imagine it’ll stay that way for long. Heavy marketing of the capabilities of many-fingered input on Apple’s part has made it a look-for feature, and no manufacturer wants to be on the wrong side of a trend. Palm seems to be moving forward with the Pre (which makes heavy use of multitouch), regardless of the threat of litigation by Apple’s COO Tim Cook. Multitouch has become a staple and, if they have hopes for Android to be successful as a platform (beyond the initial rush of device’s we’ll likely see at Mobile World Congress next week), Google will have to find a way to offer it.

It’s highly unlikely that a simple request from Apple has scared Google from multitouch altogether. What’s more likely is that multitouch support is being developed and maintained throughout the platform, but in a seperate (and private) development branch – in other words, “behind the scenes”. When an end to the dispute is reached, be it by Apple licensing the patent (probably not going to happen) or losing the legal ability to dictate who can detect two fingers rather than one (more likely), Google could be ready. As we’ve seen through the user-made demos, Android supports multitouch with just a few lines of code in the right places; with a few quick switches, multitouch could be sent out to the masses.