Erik Ableson 4 minute read
June 2, 2008

Re: Windows 7 Touch Screen - If There's One Thing I Can't Stand...

If There's One Thing I Can't Stand...: "Microsoft has been touting Windows 7 at the AllThingsD conference. Steve Wildstrom was there. The main feature? A multi-touch interface, similar to that of the iPhone, and also Microsoft's own Surface technology. (See the video below, courtesy YouTube.)

So its Windows, but Windows that lets you manipulate files and objects directly on the screen by touching them as alternative to the mouse. I can see this making sense in the world of tablet computing, where Microsoft has made some inroads.

But I'm not certain I want to touch my screen as a matter of routine. I really really hate the sight of fingerprints and smudges. I would drive myself batty if I had an iPhone, and as it is, I drive myself somewhat batty already constantly wiping off the screen of my Blackberry Pearl after talking on it. The last thing I want in a PC - be it a Mac or a Windows box -- is a feature that by definition essentially invites and even encourages a smudgy screen."

(Via BusinessWeek: Byte Of The Apple.)

Didn't we just finish going over this in excruciating detail with regards to OS X and a multitouch interface? It doesn't make any sense to use a multi-touch interface in a desktop environment. Yes, I can see the interest in the tablet computing space, but that's still such a tiny niche market that I doubt it will make any real impact.

From a practical perspective, the current ergonomics of working directly on the screen of desktop or a notebook will result in a new repetitive stress injury: Carpal Shoulder Syndrome. Just for fun, reach out to your screen, and pretend to select menu items and move stuff around. Now add in switching back and forth between the screen, the keyboard and the mouse. Now do this for 10 minutes. Now call a good friend for a shoulder massage since you'll need it.

On top of the ergonomic impracticality of the touch screen as a primary interface, don't forget that you need to buy a new notebook or replace your current LCD monitor. Here we go again with Microsoft pushing a new technology that can't take advantage of your current investment. Net result is that business won't buy into this. Consumers will be dubitative about having to buy a new screen, especially when their current one works just fine (case in point, I'm still using an SGI 1600x1200 LCD screen that I bought in 2000). I can't justify buying a new one when this one works just fine. Replacing it with a touch enabled screen would be a reason to change, but I suspect that most consumers will decide that in a cool vs $$$ contest, $$$ wins.

Now if this were accompanied by the development of a whole new class of table-top computers this would be an interesting technology, but we still don't have Surface-based products available at reasonable prices to the average consumer and I don't see DELL or HP sinking a whole lot of money into a niche market like this.

I have to predict that this feature will fail to convince the majority of businesses of its utility outside of a few niche markets where graphic simulation and manipulation are part of the daily activities. Currently Microsoft's dominance is in the general office space where people drive Word, Excel and Powerpoint, none of which really see a benefit from this kind of interface. So we're up against the same decision curve that's beating Vista into the ground - I have to replace my current hardware to run this? And I gain what in productivity?

I think that Apple's incremental introduction of touch-based interfaces into the portables makes a lot more sense that trying to drop-in a whole new way of doing things. First off, it's a bonus feature that makes the new machine more attractive and it's not cost-prohibitive since it's an extension of the trackpad's capabilities, not requiring an expensive new touchscreen.

Unless we start seeing compelling table-top or tablet computers, I don't see any particular mass consumer or business market for this kind of interface. Kiosks would be an interesting spot, but we already have touch screen technology that works here and multitouch would only be useful for interactive exhibits and such, which would be cool, but still a niche.