Digitimes has unnamed sources telling them that laptop manufacturers are anticipating the Metro UI of Windows 8 and are planning to equip upcoming ultrabooks with touchpanels. Really? Touchscreens on our laptops? Why?
It’s not like there haven’t been touchscreen laptops before. But when we used them, we were left wishing we could use them more like tablets. We’ve also seen convertible laptops, but those were bulky, heavy and terrible. Sure, a lot of that terribleness was because the software and hardware were pisspoorly executed, but the concept is still terrible all by itself.
Just like PC UIs were never meant to be shoehorned into a tablet form factor, tablet UIs were never meant to be shoehorned into a PC/laptop form factor. Years after their first mainstream release, touchscreen all-in-one computers are largely still gimmicks, with no real advantage/utility/purpose to justify their existence. And that’s before even considering the issues with physical interaction. (To be clear, we’re talking about traditional laptops with touchscreens bolted on here, not convertible laptop/tablets.)
A touchscreen laptop is an ergonomic nightmare. When we use touchscreens, we generally hold them close to our bodies like books. Imagine reaching your arm out, tapping and poking at your screen for extended periods of time. No, seriously: Sit at a desk, in front of your laptop, and imagine you were using an app. Try holding your arm up for two minutes. If you try to play Fruit Ninja on a touchscreen laptop, your arms will fall off.
And what would you do with a touchscreen on a traditional laptop that trackpads can’t already handle? If your laptop has a good trackpad with decent drivers, you can probably pan, pinch, scroll and zoom just fine. Without flailing your arms around. Are you going to touchscreen game with your laptop? Play a virtual instrument? Long story short, 99 per cent of any benefit a touchscreen laptop could provide has already been accomplished by multitouch trackpads. Anyone wanting a touchscreen so bad will be better served by a standalone tablet.
Touchscreens may provide a more pronounced degree of mental intuitiveness, but not at the expense natural physical movement. A photographer, or video editor or graphic designer could find use for a touchpanel on their laptop. But the masses will not have the same needs.
So yeah, it’s possible that Windows 8 will make touch computing on a laptop not a total trainwreck. And we’ll probably see some touchscreens on traditional laptops as a result. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.