I've been using FBReaderJ to read .epub files on my tablet recently, and I discovered a nitfty feature: you can adjust the screen's brightness by dragging your finger up or down the left side of the screen. Immediately this felt like discovering a new keybinding or a new function in emacs that I'd been wishing for a while time. Why, I thought, aren't there more tricks like this?

The iPhone (and the iPad by extension) as well as Android make two major advances over previous iterations of mobile technology. First, they're robust enough to run "real" programs written in conventional programming environment. Better development tools make for better applications and more eager developers (which also makes for better applications.) Second, the interfaces are designed to be used with fingers rather than stylus (thanks to capacitive touch screens) and the design aesthetic generally reflects minimalist values and simplicity. The mobile applications of today's app stores would not work if they were visually complex and had multi-tiered menus, and hard to activate buttons.

The tension between these two features in these platforms makes it difficult to slip nifty features into applications. Furthermore, th economy of application market places does not create incentives for developers to build tools with enduring functionality. The .epub reader I mentioned above is actually free software. [1] I write a couple of posts a while back on innovation (one and two) that address the relationship between free software and technological development but that's beside the point.

Given this, there are two major directions that I see tablet interfaces moving toward:

1. Tablet interfaces will slowly begin to acquire a more complete gestural shorthand and cross-app vocabulary that will allow us to become more effective users of this technology. Things like Sywpe are part of this, but I think there are more.

2. There will be general purpose systems for tablets that partially or wholly expect a keyboard, and then some sort of key-command system will emerge. This follows from my thoughts in the "Is Android the Future of Linux?" post.

I fully expect that both lines of development can expand in parallel.

[1]I also found the base configuration of FBReader (for the tablet, at least) to be horrible, but with some tweaking, it's a great app.