What can you do only with touch?

Its been about two years since Apple opened up the API and allowed people to write programs directly with the interface elements available within the hardware and software of the iPod device. This has been an unprecedented success, more people have picked up Objective C, even more sales have taken place since the heydays of the Palm. Now with the iPad, we’re likely to see some new interface ideas, hopefully more adventurous than the pointy dropdown I noticed in the keynote. Probably something new will come from outside of Apple, since even the lauded ‘augmented reality’ is not an experience from an Apple branded product.

Till the iPad gets its groove on, I do want to showcase a couple of apps on the iPhone/iTouch that I think have really used the capabilities of the device in novel ways and made something brand new. And as a bonus, they are all games. Even though game machines are known to push the envelope graphically, only the Wii really thought through a new way of playing. The iPhone made it avalable, but developers have figured out new ways to use a device to have fun. So here are a few experiences you can only do on the iPhone.

1. Labyrinth – This game was one of the first out of the gate, and a true natural to use the orientation sensors in the device. Navigating a ball through a maze was actually one of my favorite wooden puzzles as a kid, twisting the little knobs and ever so delicately keeping the steel ball from being sucked into the base. This recreates and improves on the experience (the ball doesn’t ‘stick’!). So this gaming experience is impossible on any other device.

2. Unblock me – Sometimes a mouse doesn’t cut it. Some master puzzle maker derived this new puzzle type where blocks need to be shifted to allow one to pass through. Sort of like ‘sudoku’ – this puzzle has a fairly infinite amount of variety and options, the only thing it lacks is the ability to physically ‘slide’ the pieces. So touch sensitive screens and voila, another game experience only for the touch screen.

3. Flight Control – Being able to trace a course on a touch screen makes possible this experience where you try to keep planes from crashing into each other. Without the ability to quickly reroute and redraw, this would be a crashing bore.

4. Levers – ok, so you can play this game with a mouse, but something about picking up things, moving them back and forth with your finger seems more pleasurable and fun.

5. Doodle Jump – Without a doubt, the big winner. This kind of gameplay would be not only no fun, but somewhat impossible on any other device. The brilliance of having the platformer jump automatically and using the tilting to steer, very clever.

I wish there were more examples, but my point is that those that see the entirety of the experience, and use the abilities of the device can think up something delightful.