Pinch to Zoom Graphic

A Visual History of Pinch to Zoom

I was curious about the origin of the Pinch-to-Zoom touchscreen gesture, however, I was unable to find a resource that displayed all of the examples of this popular command. I decided to do some research, and share my findings here. What follows likely isn’t the whole story, however, the process of creating this post really helped me better understand the subject.


Myron Krueger is a computer scientist and an experimental video artist, and is arguably orignal creator of Pinch to Zoom (even though, at the time of this writing, his Wikipedia entry doesn’t mention it). Myron’s work didn’t involve a touchscreen. He used an elaborate setup involving a suspended video camera and computers, among other things. In this video from 1985, you can skip ahead to 2:20 for the pinch demo:


Incorporating a similar practice of dangling a heavy video camera over his head, Pierre Wellner’s produced The Digital Desk at Rank Xerox EuroPARC in Cambridge, England in 1991. Check out an amusing acting performance and an example of a pinch highlighting gesture at 3:06:


Moving the cameras to a safer location (the corners of a computer monitor), Dean Rubine, of Carnegie Mellon University, demonstrates a custom multi-touch system that he built, with a pinching gesture he calls “rotate-scale-translate.” Skip ahead to 7:00 for this section.


Sun Microsystems, Bruce Tognazinni and a crew of “more than 100 engineers, designers, futurists, and filmakers” got together to make a short film entitled Starfire in 1992. The film is set in 2004, and it’s centered around a fictitious product called the “Sun Video Collaboration Booth.” This video is worth watching in its entirety just to hear the “swoosh” sounds the booth makes whenever anything happens. Skip ahead to 2:04 to see the pinch gesture, which is a command that duplicates a toolbar:


Fingerworks was founded in Newark, Delaware in 1998 in an effort to find a solution to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and the pain of repetitive stress brought on by constantly handling a keyboard and mouse. John Elias and Wayne Westerman created several commercially available touchpad products that aimed to revolutionize computer input control. The company was purchased by Apple in 2005. The following image was taken from the iGesturePad Quick Guide:



Music technology pioneers Bob Moog and Hugh Le Caine were among the first to build touch sensitive senors, and similarly, a pair of electronic music devotees were responsible for bringing the very first screen-based multi-touch product to market. In 2001, Guillaume Largillier and Pascal Joguet got together with Julien Olivier and formed JazzMutant, and in 2005 the Lemur became commercially available. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a suitable video that demonstrated pinch gestures on a Lemur, so the following image will have to suffice:



A research scientist at NYU, Jeff Han was deeply involved with the creation of multi-touch technology, well before the announcement of the original iPhone. His 2006 TED demo clearly displays a Pinch to Zoom functionality that behaves very much like the one we use today. Skip ahead to 2:42 for the pinch felt ’round the world:


Steve Jobs demos Pinch to Zoom on the iPhone in 2007. Skip ahead to see it at the 33:10 mark. Jump to 47:23 for the zoom in the Maps application. However, if you’re traveling all the way over to 47:23, you may as well park at 46:20 to catch the Starbucks prank:


MG Siegler from Tech Crunch documents the arrival of Pinch to Zoom in Android 2.1 Eclair for the Nexus One. The gesture was added to maps, photo gallery, and the browser. Skip ahead to the 35 second mark to see the pinch. I just saved you 35 seconds of your time. You’re welcome.

Pop Quiz

When you look at the evolution of Pinch to Zoom, from an experimental video artist in the early eighties, to a university research scientist in the mid 2000’s, does the concept seem like an idea or an invention?

Note: This article was originally posted in a forum at The Verge. You can check out the lengthy discussion that follows at this link.

Update: This post was updated in July, 2014 to include Dean Rubine’s work from 1991.

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Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

6 thoughts on “A Visual History of Pinch to Zoom”

  1. Here’s my video shown at talks in 1991 and published in 1992. It includes a demonstration of an early multitouch system I built, including a two-finger pinch-to-zoom-like gesture I called “rotate-scale-translate.” I hope you might be so kind as to include me in your history. Thank you. – Dean.


    Dean Rubine, Specifying Gestures by Examples, Proc. Computer Graphics, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 329-337, July 1991

    Dean Rubine, The Automatic Recognition of Gestures, PhD Thesis, Carnegie Mellon University Department of Computer Science, 1991

    Dean Rubine, Combining Gestures and Direct Manipulation, SIGGRAPH Video Review Issue 77: CHI ’92 Technical Program, 1992

    Integrating Gestures and Direct Manipulation, Summer 1991 USENIX Technical Proceedings, 1991

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