Windows 8 PC Makers Face Touch Trouble - InformationWeek

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Software // Operating Systems
03:54 PM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus

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
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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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