Touch-based interfaces have captured everyone's imagination, thanks in large part to the iPhone. With Windows 7, Microsoft joins Apple in bringing touch to the desktop, baking touch capabilities into the OS itself. Whereas Apple quietly added touch to Mac OS X Leopard a couple years back, Microsoft has hyped its Microsoft Surface technology for more than a year. Beneath this hype has been the suggestion that, with Windows 7, a touch revolution is brewing.
Or maybe not.
Two years of avid iPod Touch use has gotten me excited about the idea of touch UIs, so I was eager to try out the vaunted touch technology in Windows 7. My MacBook Pro has touch capabilities in its trackpad, but I usually run the laptop closed when working at my desk, so its touch capabilities haven't been regularly accessible. The new breed of all-in-one PCs with touch-sensitive screens from Dell and Hewlett-Packard promised to change the equation and make touch on the PC as cool and functional as touch on an iPhone.
Well, that was the theory. The truth has been a bitter disappointment. In both Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the touch experience has been underwhelming.
Limited deployment is partly to blame, as -- despite marketing hype -- neither Apple nor Microsoft is making a serious effort to touchify their OSes. For Microsoft, touch seems to be a technology crush it won't admit it's fallen out of love with; for Apple, touch seems to be a key part of its non-PC strategy. (Neither Apple nor Microsoft would talk to InfoWorld about touch technology.)
Of course, Microsoft and Apple may have reason for not getting serious about touch. After all, outside of the obvious use in self-contained kiosk environments, does touch really make sense on a PC?
My early experience suggests it does not.
Here are the key concerns that make PC touch useless for most people -- and that will continue to plague any notion of a "touch revolution" on the desktop PC for years to come.
Issue 1: Touch is not omnipresent
What makes the touch interface so compelling on the iPhone and on quality copycats such as the Palm Pre is that the use of touch gestures are a fundamental part of the operating system and the applications. Just as using a mouse is fundamental and universal in Windows and Mac OS X, touch gestures are universal in the iPhone, Palm Pre, and so on. This means the user interfaces are designed with touch at the core, and typically work intuitively as you put your finger to the screen.