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Is Microsoft Right About Touchscreen Computers? (mashable.com)
32 points by Snapps 1604 days ago | hide | past | web | 47 comments | favorite

On the rare occasions when my five-year-old son gets his hands on my Macbook, he frequently tries to interact with it by tapping and swiping the screen. Growing up with tablets around, this is natural to him. I know that's just one anecdote, but it's enough to make me think that the OP is right that regular, non-tablet computers will commonly have touch screens.

I think a lot of the people saying that Windows 8 is the most terrible mistake are forgetting precisely this. Dell has just released a series of laptop/tablet hybrids running win8, and also has Desktops with touchscreen. I think Microsoft has done a great job by facilitating this transition(to "all computers with touchscreen") with win8. Now that a major Software has a touch-based paradigm, hardware vendors will have the courage to switch over as well. Oh, I can't wait to see how the future will shape out!

Wow. This is mindblowing. I just went through the thought/body experiment:

On your desktop/laptop, assume you already have a touchscreen and everything works perfectly. Assume every swipe interaction you have ever used works perfectly.

Interact with the computer. Navigate around the computer. Drag and drop files. Surf around the internet. Click tabs and hyperlinks and whatever with the mouse, with touch, even with tab+space, whatever feels natural.

Do it. Seriously, literally do it. Go through the motions.

I see what you're getting at, and I agree that it feels quite clunky....now. But I wouldn't be so dismissive quite yet. What if in the future you could detach your screen and keep it on the table? Now, you have an actual "surface" (just like a tablet). You can play games with others on this surface . Maybe, divide the screens and then have everyone use part of their screen for their own work. (I'm just listing what I could think of doing with a really large tablet)

My point is simply that once we have touchscreens on every desktop, it might enable ways to interact with your computer that we might not even have thought of yet.

edit: added "similarity to tablet" part

'Mindblowing' is nearly always a positive thing. I think your comment really made an impression. I did as he said, lounging here with my laptop, and it really was a nice feeling to have the option to reach up and scroll the page with my thumb. I'd like to put three fingers down and tap my left most finger to shuffle tabs but that's impossible now. I'm looking forward to future hardware.

Oh, I wasn't sure whether eupharis was being sarcastic. Thanks for clarifying that!

Yep, no sarcasm meant. :) Now I just can't wait to actually have a touchscreen and have all my software work flawlessly with it!

Obviously you will be navigating a world designed with another paradigm in mind, the mouse, or the pointer.

This is what iOS did: Create a new world designed for being touched. Instead of the Windows CE or the Palms around the pointer.

You have to redesign the entire software stack for being touched, and it will happen.

Ubuntu Unity, Windows 8, and Mac OS new versions are races against time for being the first bringing professional creative tools "touch-ready".

It is very hard to do it, and current users are getting angry the same way people got mad when they removed the numeric keys from the macs(so command line software got redesigned around mouse).

Several years ago I bought a used Sharp Zaurus. I got so used to using the touch screen that, even now, I reach for a stylus when I try to use my TI-89.

I now have an Asus Transformer, and I find that I now reach for the screen on laptops as well. However, when I plug my mouse into my Transformer, it annoys my that I cannot use the mouse as I've comes to expect it to be used; instead, the OS interprets everything the mouse does as gestures.

I hope to someday install Linux on my tablet, and then try to create an interface that treats touch as touch, and mouse as mouse. I also have ideas for touch I'd like to experiment with.

>regular, non-tablet computers will commonly have touch screens.

I think the conclusion is rather that soon enough, regular computers will be tablets (or tabletops).

It might be one anecdote, but it's a great one. It just seems natural and intuitive to touch the screen.

Thanks for all of the great commentary everyone!

Sure, for people who have no need to input text.

The BEST thing about a MacBook laptop, in my opinion, is the trackpad. The ability, even if it's only partial, to scroll with gestures, move things around by "dragging them" with 3 fingers, and so on, is simply so much nicer than any use of a mouse.

I don't really know why, I just know that it makes me really happy to use the trackpad. It feels natural.

This, to me, is a sign that we are definitely heading towards something that involves Touch to a much larger degree.

I can't imagine touch being on every computer monitor, because my arm would get tired. I mean, I'm now leaning back on my chair with my keyboard on my lap, with my monitor pretty far away - I wouldn't be able to do that if I had to touch the monitor. Still, the world of computer interaction is going to be a very interesting one over the next few years, that's guaranteed.

These are really great times we're living in.


the touchpad on your laptop is around the size as the screen on your smartphone. They use hand/wrist-sized motions. This is fast and efficient.

Scaling a touchscreen up to laptop or desktop size is a completely different set of motions. Your whole arm gets involved and your fingers have to travel much further to achieve the same motion.

I think the mapped indirect manipulation of a trackpad makes a lot more sense from a human factors perspective.

[edit clarity]

Why do you consider these to be mutually exclusive forms of input? Just because you can touch a screen doesn't mean that all other forms of input are no longer applicable.

I don't.

I do think the ergonometrics of using touch on a large(ish) vertical display - "Gorilla Arm"[1] - is a deal breaker for extended interaction.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4726394

What would be great is if you could use the trackpad a lot like a loupe. Imagine a small touchscreen device that shows a certain magnification of the screen. Zoom out on the loupe, and it acts like a standard trackpad. Zoom in on the loupe, and it acts like a precision touchscreen.

There would be some subtle feedback on the main screen indicating where the loupe is currently focussed I'd guess.

Scaling that up to laptop or desktop screen size is a completely different set of motions.

Why do you assume the motions are different? Apple has already proven this with the Magic Trackpad for desktops.

[edit] I think I wasn't clear. Scaling the direct on-screen manipulation up to laptop/desktop fundamentally changes the physical motions required.

The Magic Trackpad is indirect scaled motion like the inbuilt trackpad on a laptop. It's size is still within the range of easy and quick wrist motion unlike touching the desktop screen itself.

There's even push back against ever increasing phone screen sizes. They've gone beyond a finger's range of motion.

I agree.

I only use the Apple magic trackpad for input in my Apple and Ubuntu computers.

It is an amazing device, all other trackpads I had tested(and I do it with every computer I see on the store) is shit compared with it, on laptops and stand alone.

But it takes some time getting used to it, specially for doing things like right clicking(15-30min in my experience with other people), so I don't see most of the people using it, unless you could make people to climb that learning curve.

About touching the screen, I remember the Windows users talking about how touching the ipad "will never work" because the screen gets dirty, like the people from Linux that hated what iOS did until Android copied it, and instantly became the best thing since sliced bread.

The article's title is "Microsoft Is Right About Touchscreen Computers", not the interrogative form as this post's title currently is. It should be corrected.

The submitter probably disagreed with the article's conclusion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge%27s_law_of_headlines

I'm still not convinced that "touchscreen computers" will help with general purpose content creation.

I have yet to see how touching the screen will help me write software (or a word document for that matter) better or that my finger is precise enough to design with.

Content consumption, web browsing, social sharing, all that stuff sure. I have modern smartphone and a couple tablets - they're pretty awesome. But bringing extending the touchscreen paradigm to the machine I use to do "work" - I'm just not seeing it yet.

"I have yet to see how touching the screen will help me write software (or a word document for that matter) better or that my finger is precise enough to design with."

It will never do. Typing is just so much faster than touching. But it does not matter because: TALKING is much better than typing for textual data.

On the other hand, touching is so much better for edition of already introduced data, the only problem is that software is designed around keyboards, for example moving letters instead of words.

that my finger is precise enough to design with

So use a pen when you need precision. The designers I know that have Wacom cintiq screens love them to death.

The ones I know do too. That's a different interface paradigm though.

Pen is not suitable a general purpose pointing device to use in conjunction with any type of (onscreen or physical) keyboard.

* Tap on the screen to set carat * Put down pen * Type * Pick up pen * Click something else

Just no good.

For design / illustration pen is fantastic. You don't even need to have a Cintiq, a standard tablet works almost as well. I'll bet you money though, when most designers are doing other things, managing files, browsing the web, writing, etc. they put down the pen and pick up their mouse.

I played with 3 Win8 touchscreen computers at a store the other day. The big 'all in one' one - from HP I think - was just not good. You might get used to it, but I didn't like it. The dragging - which you end up having to do a lot of - was pretty slow, and no amount of poking around in the system settings showed a way to change the responsiveness. Secondly, it doesn't seem that there's any sort of speed sensitivity - flicking an ipad screen fast or slow changes the speed of the scrolling; that didn't seem to be the case on the systems I used (nor on my win8 system here, but it's not touch).

The two touch-enabled laptops I tested were more responsive and a better experience, although the speed of scrolling issue was still there. I suspect hardcore geeks may not adapt to these for some time - they're very 'eye candy' focused, and reduce your ability to do things with keystrokes. For the crowd that still meticulously watches their hand move to the mouse, then moves the eyes back to the screen to watch the mouse move, slowly, up to a menu, then click, then wait, then select an option, when just hitting 'ctrl-s' would do the trick, I suspect they'll like touchscreens for more of their daily work. Me? For now it'll be a niche thing.

I've used Windows 8 on an Lenovo X220 Tablet and would have to say that in terms of touch-response, it's incredibly accurate and fast. It's most noticeable in the Maps app where I can zoom in and out really quickly.

And because so many of my devices are touchscreens now, it's really natural to want to touch the screen and do something when I don't want to use my mouse, trackpad, or trackpoint. It's so commonplace that I'm finding that I'm trying to touch the screen on my Macbook Air too.

I know exactly what you're talking about. After I started using my ASUS Transformer last year, I had to consciously train myself to not touch my laptop and desktop screens. That was painful enough that I'm firmly convinced that adding touchscreens is an important part of the future of traditional PCs.

I tried an Acer all in one with a touch screen, then a Sony Vaio 11 Duo and then to a bunch of non-touch laptops running Windows 8 in a store over the weekend.

I think in terms of Windows 8, the new touch screen is easier to navigate and interact with using touch than it is with keyboard and mouse. And feels more natural.

I think the keyboard & mouse experience could be improved.

An example, my brother installed Windows 8 on his Lenovo Thinkpad the other day and took a good few minutes trying to find the shutdown button until I showed him where it is now. (Hover right to bring up the charms, select power. Or press ctrl+alt+delete. Or if all else fails, pressing the power button should shutdown the device).

A Microsoft Touch Mouse with the latest Win8 drivers is a good stopgap - you can use the gestures on top of the mouse to bring up charms and so on.

I think Microsoft is, at least in concept, on to something.

Whether or not they're right is a matter of execution - not only on their part, but on the part of the OEMs who have a nasty habit of doing the most short-sighted things possible.

A general purpose tablet computer, with the right feature set, with the right price point, and most importantly, with the right user experience, can be huge. But of all the Win8 devices I've seen, none of them are close enough.

Right is subjective. Care to explain? Maybe there is no single device that gets everything right? But are there separate devices that each got one aspect right? Care to give examples?

My pint is that Windows ecosystem is all about diversity. If there exist separate devices, some manufacturer will bring the together.

So touchscreen's coming back into vogue? Great in a tablet format. For standard computer monitors this is a major ergonomics no-no: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touchscreen#.22Gorilla_arm.22

Of course if this leads to light-table style hardware that could be pretty awesome.

Well don't forget that they were doing tablets all the way back in 2002. They just didn't have the foresight or guts to revamp the ecosystem around it. So the tablets didn't work because they needed to take advantage of the existing mouse-based Windows ecosystem of software, most of which was just too cumbersome to use on a tablet with a stylus.

It took the internet about 10 years to really take off too and there were a lot of visionaries in the early 90s that just couldn't survive until the hockey stick growth really started to take off and validate their assessments.

I went to the Microsoft Store to see if the Surface RT was worth picking up - I ended up being more impressed by the touchscreen Intel notebooks they had out running Windows 8.

I do think Microsoft is on to something with Touch and their new UI. Unfortunately, I felt that the touch interface was pretty useless on the old Windows 7 UI and MS Office.

I wonder how much confusion there will be with the move to Touch, and non-"Windows Modern UI"/Metro apps. It feels like Apple is moving OS X towards iOS and touch friendly, but they are doing it very gradually.

Having a laptop with a touchscreen is a surprisingly big deal. Big enough that I bought one for just that feature, and the Apple laptops without it seemed suddenly old fashioned.

I think the reason Apple reversed the default trackpad two finger scroll direction is because they plan on releasing Macs with touchscreens in the near future.

I always figured it was to match iOS.

I agree. Most people's first Apple device these days is an iDevice and if they go on to get a Mac as well, they get greeted by familiar things like launchpad, scrolling etc. .

Yeah, the Gateway Drug factor here is huge.

There might be something to this. Despite Jobs' statements about the usefulness (or otherwise) of upright touch screens, accessory manufacturers have been catering to people who want to use their iPad upright literally since day one. Apple itself is doing this with the Smart Cover. So if that's OK, does adding a physical keyboard laid flat to the equation somehow turn it wrong? Seems like a stretch.

I completely agree with you. I just want to get this one point off my chest though: why do people put so much stock on Jobs' public pronouncements? He was wrong on so many occasions, either on purpose (to conceal Apple's intentions) or just plain mistaken, enough times that his statements really are pretty much worthless for any sort of evaluation of current tech or prognostication about future. Average people maybe can keep holding him up as a faultless visionary but HN should see him as he as: less a visionary and more just someone who liked to always present a front of total certainty, regardless of whether there was something or nothing to back that certainty up. I.e. Jobs was a salesman primarily interested in selling Apple products in the short-term - not a deep-thinking omniscient prophet.

What's with the editorializing of the articles title here?

This whole article got me excited! Maybe Windows 8/RT and Surface aren't a miserable failure. I'm hopefully because at the very least, this will force Apple to innovate harder.

having a touch screen when writing touch enabled HTML5 games has come in handy

I think people are really missing the point of Surface if they think that the focus is on touch+classic. It's about supporting classic. And supporting touch. And it does, Metro-with-mouse takes getting used to, but it can be done.

The Surface RT can play the iPad role.

The Surface Pro can play the iPad role and the laptop role.

That's why what Microsoft is doing is risky but has the potential for user value: For some reason, people really want to use Android apps on their computer. Think about the number of apps and games that would be available? That's what Microsoft is getting out of this. Developers get to target both casual users and pro users. And pro users who are casual users after 5PM.

I don't plan to buy a Surface, but I see a lot more potential than I think others are really willing to see if they're honest with themselves.

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