Touch on Windows laptops, in one form or another, has been around for quite some time. For most of that time, it was bad. No wait, bad is too generous–it was nearly unusable. But as much as no one wants to admit it, that’s all changed. Touch is quite good on Windows 10.
That doesn’t stop people from wondering why they’d want touch in the first place. Touch is for tablets, laptops can be laptops, they say. And while using touch is definitely not a necessity, I’ve found that it’s actually a big convenience that can make your day to day use a little more enjoyable.
Touch Is Finally Usable
First, and perhaps most importantly, touch doesn’t suck anymore.
In the early 2000s, when touch screens started becoming popular in cars and GPS devices, they didn’t quite work like the touch screens we know today. They could handle one point of touch. They were slow. They were inaccurate. Sometimes you had to press really hard to get it to register. Windows XP “tablets” had similar problems–plus the targets were impossibly small. To add to the frustration, much of the hardware required you use a stylus for “touch” to work in the first place. It was bad, it was expensive, it worked poorly, and it mostly just frustrated people.
Windows Vista and 7 didn’t improve the experience much, and 8 swung the pendulum too far in the other direction–the OS was too touch-centric, making keyboard and mouse use difficult without the knowledge of shortcut keys. 8.1 was a small improvement, but still missing the sweet spot.
With Windows 10, they finally got it right. Hardware manufacturers are finally producing good touch screen hardware to work with the software, which has encouraged developers to make their applications friendlier to touch interfaces. The technology has matured enough to make touch effective.
Touch Makes Everything More Flexible
Most of the time, I use computers at a desk, and touch isn’t all that necessary. But it can be useful in certain scenarios, like when I’m doing a lot of typing and then need to click on a button (i.e. filing in a form). It’s much faster than going to the mouse or trackpad and hunting for the cursor. Not a big thing, but a nicety. Once you get used to having it, it’s annoying when it’s not there.
If you’re willing to give it a shot, touch can help make a lot of things more convenient. Lots of Windows laptops, for example, are shipping with high DPI screens. This gives us really rich, beautiful looking displays, but presents scaling issues for some applications (that’s a fancy way of saying that some text and buttons get really small). This is most notable with web pages. Windows has long allowed you to zoom in or out with Ctrl+ and Ctrl- or Ctrl+Mouse Wheel. Both of these work fine, but are a little clunky and unknown to lots of people. Pinch and zoom type functionality is widely known, makes sense, and works beautifully. Having this on your laptop is really, really nice.
Perhaps the best use of touch on a Windows laptop, though, is scrolling. Trackpads for Windows laptops are getting better, but they’re still not great. Two finger scrolling is a little clunky. Using the arrow keys or a scroll wheel is imprecise. Nothing works as well as just touching the screen and moving what’s on it to exactly where you want it. This is especially useful when lounging on the couch where using the keyboard/trackpad in general may be a little awkward. A touch screen allows for more sitting positions as you browse.
It’s Not a Necessity, But It’s Really Nice to Have
Touch on Windows 10 is in no way a necessity. If you’re willing to pony up the extra cash that usually accompanies a touch screen laptop, and give it a real chance, you might find it hard to go back. My main computer is a laptop that spends most of its life attached to a dock with two non-touch monitors. A mouse and keyboard work great. When I undock it, though, it’s really nice to have that touch screen capability.
Touch is quick, easy, and intuitive. We already know these things–it’s why smartphones and tablets have become so popular. With Windows 10, Microsoft has provided a desktop OS that can benefit from touch, too, without distracting from desktop functionality. The Windows 10 Store is providing apps that work great with a mouse and with touch. And while the Store is still a long way from having the wealth of options Apple or Google have in their mobile stores, it’s growing.
Perhaps the best reason for touch is you will never have to say “Where is that freaking cursor?” again. Want to type in a field? Reach out and touch it. Need to access the start menu? Touch it. Click submit on a form? You get the idea.
Windows 10 also offers Tablet Mode, which makes the already touch-friendly UI touch-focused. When you enter Tablet Mode, the Start menu becomes a Start screen (Windows 8 anyone?). Touch points are emphasized. Swipe gestures are enabled. If you have a convertible laptop this is a really nice feature to have, and unlike Windows 8, prevents the touch-centric features from creeping in on your desktop use.
The use of touch on Windows has finally matured to a point where it has gone from unusable to nice value add. It’s certainly not a necessity, but definitely makes the computing experience a little more pleasant. If you have a touch-enabled laptop but haven’t taken advantage, give it a shot. You may be surprised.