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Will Windows 7 touchscreens change the way you use your PC?

We look at Microsoft's hyped touch facility in the OS

Touchscreens have certainly become more common over the past few years and now Microsoft will be joining the flock, as Windows 7 features touch capabilities. However, we've got some key concerns about the capability and its usefulness.

Why touch remains a tantalising prospect

Despite all these issues, the promise of touch remains tantalising, as I'm reminded every day when I use my iPod touch.

Although the utility of touch for working in a spreadsheet or word processor is questionable, there are some apps where touch makes sense, such as with Google Maps or Microsoft Bing Maps.

On IE8 or Safari, manipulating them by touch with zoom and scroll gestures simply feels better than using a mouse. It's natural to touch the map, as you would a physical map or globe. And if you've ever used Google Earth on an iPhone, you know how the desktop version feels like a pale imitation simply because you can't manipulate it as directly.

But there's a chicken-and-egg issue to resolve. Few apps cry out for a touch UI, so Microsoft and Apple can continue to get away with merely dabbling with touch as an occasional mouse-based substitute. It would take one or both of these OS makers to truly touchify their platforms, using common components to pull touch into a great number of apps automatically.

Without a clear demand, their incentive to do so doesn't exist.

I'm hoping that Apple's long-rumored tablet based on the iPod Touch might create the demand, by bringing a touch interface to a device that is more computer-like and thus might stimulate touch UI development that would more easily translate to the desktop/laptop experience.

That's a big 'if', since no-one outside of Apple really knows what such a device would do or, indeed, if it even exists.

But if Apple changes the game in the touch-based tablet world, that could give both the OS makers and app developers the incentive to make touch more than a skin-deep graft onto Windows or Mac OS X. My money is on Apple, not Microsoft, to be the one that gets serious about touch, if anyone does.

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See also: Watch the Windows 7 'multi-touch' demo

  1. We look at Microsoft's heavily hyped touch capability in the OS
  2. The first of the key concerns
  3. UIs aren't finger-friendly
  4. Gesture-based computing needs a better surface
  5. Why touch remains a tantalising prospect

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