Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
10/17/2012
03:54 PM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary
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Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble

Touch has a big role in Microsoft's marketing blitz for Windows 8. But many Ultrabooks set to go on sale this fall aren't touch-enabled.

8 Key Differences Between Windows 8 And Windows RT
8 Key Differences Between Windows 8 And Windows RT
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The first Windows 8 advertisement danced its way across television screens across America during breaks in NFL football action on Sunday, and guess what? The ad was all about touch. Touch and tiles.

That should shock no one. Touch and tiles, that's the essence of Windows 8's new user interface. Swap out the new UI--Microsoft now calls it the "Modern UI"--with the Windows 7 "Start" menu and all you'd be left with are a few cosmetic changes along with some minor improvements under the hood. So if Windows 8 compels people to run out and buy PCs this holiday season, it will be because Modern UI is a hit. And Modern UI is all about--I'll say it again--touch and tiles.

Pretty simple. And yet a surprising number of the Windows 8 PCs now making their way to store shelves in preparation for the October 26 launch date aren't touch enabled. PC makers are worried that most buyers won't be willing to shell out the money for a new laptop with touch, which adds about $100 to the price of a system.

[Is it suddenly Apple's turn to catch up? See Windows 8 Beats The Mac, Appsolutely. ]

It's hard to fault them entirely for that line of reasoning. While there will be some Windows 8-based Ultrabooks available at mainstream, high-volume price points, many of the coolest, most lust-inducing models will be priced north of $1,000. Which means vendors won't sell that many of them.

So the PC vendors are caught in bit of a Catch 22: They can build Windows 8 systems at prices that most consumers are willing to pay. Or they can build Windows 8 systems that most consumers will really want to buy. But they're having trouble compressing both into the same systems--at least for this holiday season.

That should be much easier for vendors to achieve by this time next year. In the meantime, though, they've got a problem. During Intel's earnings call Tuesday, CEO Paul Otellini boasted that the company is tracking more than 140 Ultrabook designs, and more than 40 of them are touch-enabled systems. Which means that about 70% of the Ultrabook models don't include touch. When you adjust for the fact that the touch-enabled systems lean toward the higher end of the price spectrum, the raw number of no-touch Ultrabook units being produced is undoubtedly higher than that.

Lots of no-touch systems for a touch-centric new UI? Really, when you get right down to it, it wouldn't change anything if Microsoft kept mum about the new Windows capabilities. Windows 8 on a no-touch PC can be downright aggravating. Using a mouse to navigate Modern UI instead of your finger feels a little like trying to grab a prize with a mechanical claw in an arcade game.

But Microsoft is highlighting touch in its commercials. And if Intel has any money left over from the "hundreds of millions" that it allocated for Ultrabook advertising in 2012, I wouldn't be surprised to see the chip supplier do the same thing.

If you're a PC vendor, that would be great air cover for your fall lineup of Windows 8 Ultrabooks. At least, it would be if your new models aligned with the hype. But they don't. Which suggests that come New Year's, the sleek touch-enabled systems will be in short supply and the PC vendors will be discounting the no-touch laptops to clear them out of inventory.

On the bright side, the industry will have learned its lesson. And once they've dusted themselves off and re-grouped, the PC suppliers can focus on how they can fit touch capability into the high-volume tiers of their product lines. And by the time the 2013 selling season rolls around, their offerings will align with the Microsoft and Intel hype.

The hype from the 2012 selling season, that is.

Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)

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moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/20/2012 | 2:50:31 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
Touch for desktops requires also a change in office furniture. The touch enabled monitors need to be mounted into the desktops at the correct angle and be large enough to accommodate a full size touch keyboard and provide enough screen space for applications. The best might be to have dual touch screen monitors plus a third touch monitor that is sized properly for a soft keyboard. Ideally, that special screen also provides tactile feedback as a real keyboard does.
So ideally we'd need special touch enabled monitors (and throw out all the fully functioning monitors we have now) and have to buy all new office furniture with the proper mounts (and throw away all the desks we use now) just to use the "Modern UI" efficiently on a desktop system. The cost for a W8 license would be totally negligible in this scenario as are the training costs and productivity losses until users get accustomed to the new setup. Now, why again is a touch optimized UI that cannot be turned off easily offered as in your face change with W8? Am I missing the point?
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/20/2012 | 2:43:58 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
Why buy an external device that is touch enabled and requires W8 when I can get a decent mouse for five bucks and keep using W7? Makes sense if all I want to do is spend more money than is necessary. In that case, go for it!
Perek
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Perek,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/20/2012 | 9:41:19 AM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
Sure, phase out the desktop PC is a great thing and a very obvious furure.
BUT.
The one thing that makes it all possible is to equip the laptops with thunderbolt ports thus enablin eGPU's and loads of other modularity.
So far the laptop manufacturers have failed to deliver what was supposed to be available on mass already this summer.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2012 | 7:03:15 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
But to be fair, Apple tried and failed too, but tried again and got a smash hit. Who's to say Microsoft won't do the same?
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 1:53:04 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
I really don't get everyone's confusion on what Win8 is all about. Come on folks, this is not that difficult to grasp.

Win8 is a step in the right direction to build an OS platform that can unify all devices... from the phone to the desktop and everything in between. The benefits are numerous. A consistent UX across all devices. Purchase a "common" software app that runs on all devices - either as a native app (think Office 2010) or a subscription service (think Office 2013, Office365). Developers have an easier time of it too because they only have to code once (or at worst, make minor code changes to their apps across devices).

People also need to give up this preconceived notion that Win8 is one-size-fits-all. It's not. You can run the new UI (formerly Metro) or you can run the traditional desktop. You have the advantage of bringing your legacy apps from Win7. Or you can start fresh on the RT version of Win8 with an ARM chip and all new apps (100K of them promised within 90 days of launch).

This is a bold step by MS and I think it will pay off in the end. People just don't like change so they close their minds to possibilities.

fwiw - as to the premise of the article. It is not Microsoft's fault that OEM hardware makers have so few of their devices running with touch screens. Gosh, they've only known about Win8 for well over a year. It's no wonder that MS felt it had to create Surface. Sheesh...
stevew928
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stevew928,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2012 | 11:10:38 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
"I think Microsoft is betting that people will phase out the desktop"

In the most popular use, yes, I think that is a fair assumption. However, I don't think the desktop is ultimately going away. This is a mistake I think Microsoft is making as opposed to Apple. Microsoft seems to be headed towards a merge mentality, where as Apple seems headed towards separate, but as nearly as possible, transparent sharing of the data. Then, borrowing various feature from one side or the other, as they learn.

I think the latter is a much better strategy, as hardware and UI realities are always going to mean power-tasks and complex interaction will be better suited to the 'desktop' while mobility will always favor the tablet/phone, etc. at the expense of power and UI. They are simply different.
stevew928
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stevew928,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2012 | 11:02:55 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
Here's the thing... there are more appropriate and productive ways of interacting with different kinds of systems in different environments. It isn't (or shouldn't be), "touch is the cool new thing; lets do it!" There is a reason previous Microsoft attempts at pen and touch based tablets failed... and it wasn't just because Apple hadn't made it popular yet.
stevew928
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stevew928,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2012 | 10:58:58 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
And the confusion begins! Why the heck would anyone want a touch-screen desktop or laptop (or ultrabook)?

I think Microsoft still doesn't get it. Mobile and 'desktop' aren't going to morph into one. Touching a laptop or desktop isn't as efficient, UI wise, nor is trying to use a mouse pointer on a tablet. Or, maybe they do get it and this is just an attempt to drag the Windows legacy base - kicking and screaming - into their new OS while still thinking its Windows.
U.L. Harper
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U.L. Harper,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/18/2012 | 6:35:38 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
It will be interesting, but to tell you honestly, I think Microsoft is betting that people will phase out the desktop, and many of their new devices will assist in that. Personally, I hate using my desktop. I can't stand using a mouse. Every day, I use a tablet and a detachable keyboard at work and it's much better than sitting in that office. I would not dream of doing anything but touching the screen. If I ever get another home PC, it will be an all-in-one touchscreen, no doubt.

Using the mouse bugs most of the time.

pkohler01
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pkohler01,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/18/2012 | 5:06:54 PM
re: Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble
It's going to be interesting to see how this pans out. I'm sure most modern OS's - Linux, Mac, Windows, whatever - will have touch features in the future (some of them already do, even if its only now going mainstream) so it'll be interesting to see if new input devices are invented to make interacting with a system easier or if people will actually wind up sitting there touching their laptop or desktop screens (which, at least with desktops, sounds kind of farfetched).

How funny would it be if haptic gloves and VR goggles took off?!
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