Three Musketeers of Technology. Meet the Hidden Heroes of Apple’s Multi-Touch Interface

Photo of Rafał Sałak

Rafał Sałak

Dec 6, 2022 • 4 min read
Simultaneous discovery-1

Netguru is proud to present the eights story in the Hidden Heroes series, a publishing initiative promoting the under-represented software industry pioneers, authored by Steven Johnson.

You can read the full story on hiddenheroes.netguru.com

Are you scrolling through this press release? Or your mailbox? You will be using your mouse or multi-touch interface for that – they are so everyday that we’re all used to them. Regarding the inventor, we might all look towards Steve Jobs.

But three men, over 40 years, combined an idea, executed, and changed it into something more innovative and valuable. Meet Sam Hurst, Jeff Han, and Ken Kocienda – the three Hidden Heroes of the multi-touch interface.

“It is tempting to single out a single visionary as the cause of technological revolutions. But great inventions frequently combine important breakthroughs, and this story perfectly illustrates this. They are inevitably a collective endeavor, the result of many different creators working together, or through different times, to solve various problems that frequently appear to be unrelated,” said Steven Johnson, television host, TED Speaker, and author of the Hidden Heroes series.

“The combination of the ideas of Sam Hurst, Jeff Han, and Ken Kocienda made Apple and its product what it is today,

– Steven added. "Scrolling would not be possible without their cooperation through the years.”

The multi-touch interface turns out to be an excellent illustration of simultaneous discovery, a phenomenon that has long been noted in the history of innovation. A number of innovative concepts, technologies, or scientific discoveries come together, and, all of a sudden, a large group of people are pursuing the same concept independently.

It started when Dr. Sam Hurst created the Elograph, an electronic device that uses a coordinate measuring system to read data from charts. More than forty years later, a prototype created by Jeff Han's research team at NYU included some of the crucial interactions that would later become commonplace: pinching or expanding two fingers to zoom in or out on a photo, and dragging icons by touching the screen and sliding your finger across the surface.

While Jeff Han was working on the prototype, another company called Fingerworks was acquired by Apple and the secret project “Purple” was launched. We all saw the results in 2007 during an Apple live event, and the man behind it was named Ken Kocienda.

Click here to read the Multitouch story.

“Sometimes, it takes a village to bring an idea to fruition. Projects are born in our heads, but it takes a concerted effort to turn them into reality. Innovations are sometimes introduced overnight, and sometimes it takes years.

A perfect example is the multi-touch interface – an intergenerational effort, started by Sam Hurst, taken over by subsequent scientists, perfected over time, saw the light of day more than half a century later. Today, everyone uses touch screens, every one of us owns a smartphone. But has anyone wondered how many people are behind it? The answer is: countless.

Ideas don't just materialize out of thin air – it takes hard work and dedication to bring them to life.

This is something we should all remember the next time we use our phones. We owe it to the innovators who made it possible.” – said Nat Chrzanowska, Creative Director at Netguru.

Hidden Heroes was launched to speak about and recognize individuals who might have been somewhat forgotten, but also to emphasize cooperation across generations. An idea born in the early 1960s evolved over the years to finally land in Apple's secret project named “Purple”, and left everyone speechless after Steve Jobs Jobs’ dramatic demo of the iPhone in January 2007.

“You could just look at a screen, poke your finger, and get an answer,” Hurst, who died in 2011, told a reporter many years later. “Anybody can poke a finger!”

Steven Johnson and Netguru believe that Hidden Heroes will help people understand our society better and connect the past with the future to inspire new generations of innovators, developers, and software engineers.

Photo of Rafał Sałak

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Rafał Sałak

Comms Team Lead
A tribute to people who shaped technology  Authored by Steven Johnson     MEET HIDDEN HEROES

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