Ever since Microsoft launched Windows 8, a range of touch-enabled laptops have hit the market. But do touch screens really serve the purpose when it comes to laptops? R Krishna has some answers
Why touch-enabled laptops?
The simple answer is that Microsoft’s latest operating system supports touch screens. Not only that, Windows has received a radical makeover that makes it touch-friendly. For instance, tiny icons have been replaced by the larger ‘Tiles’ that are easy to tap using the finger.
But touch screens in laptops and PCs isn’t a brand new concept. In fact, this feature has been tested in computers since the ’80s (though screens weren’t as advanced back then) and had been deemed unusable by experts.
Touch screens are believed to give users a ‘gorilla arm’. Extending your hand to touch the screen which is typically on a table causes strain on your arms, and that’s why it is not possible to use touch screens on PCs for extended periods.
Should I avoid touch screens?
Not necessarily. All tests done previously only confirm that it is difficult to use touch screens on software that has been designed to work with a mouse and keyboard. Microsoft, however, has reimagined Windows 8 from the ground up.
We find that touch complements the keyboard and the mouse. For instance, it is more convenient to pinch to zoom in and out. Microsoft has also built in nifty touch gestures — to close a window, you can slide your finger from the top to bottom of your screen. This feels far more natural than to click on the close button using a mouse.
Simply put, there is no need to use the touch screen continuously. You end up using it in brief spells, and so there is no danger of developing the so-called gorilla arm.
But there are still some issues...
According to The New York Times’s tech journalist David Pogue, Microsoft has packed two operating systems inside Windows 8. And this is confusing for users.
The new user interface, called Modern, with its large Tiles is built for touch. But there’s also the ‘Desktop Mode’, which is essentially the traditional Windows interface. Using touch can be a pain in this mode, and we found ourselves depending on the mouse and keyboard.
Most of the popular software such as iTunes or Photoshop, all open up in the Desktop Mode. Google has built released a version of Chrome for the Modern interface, but it is far from touch friendly. Microsoft will need to work with third-party software developers to address this problem as soon as possible.
Why aren’t Macs touch-enabled?
Apple’s late founder Steve Jobs publicly dismissed using touch screens in laptops in 2010. This was significant given that the iPhone and iPad were miles ahead of the competition at the time. Instead, Apple built in multi-touch gestures into the trackpads of their MacBooks. This allowed users to scroll through a page by moving two fingers up and down the trackpad.
That said, Apple has a track record of perfecting half-baked technology. The iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player, nor was iPhone the first to use touch screens. Yet, Apple revolutionised the market with their technology. This could well happen with laptops. But for now, all we can do is enjoy touch screens on Windows 8.