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As a result, I've been hesitant about Windows 8 and its apparent emphasis on touch. That was underscored with the recent reveal of Windows Blue. For a story on the Blue leak, Forrester senior analyst David Johnson told me: "Microsoft clearly wants touch to be a rich, primary way for people to interact with the Windows environment in the future."
With that in mind, I've been thinking about the reasons behind my touch-PC skepticism. I like the touchscreen on my phone. I like it on the iPad and other tablets. So why wouldn't I want it on a laptop or desktop?
One of the answers is actually quite simple: I don't use my laptop and smartphone, my two primary work devices, for the same reasons. Although there's crossover -- I use email on both, for example -- they serve separate purposes. I'm not writing this on my phone, for example. I recognize, though, that my uses are not necessarily your uses. So I got to thinking: What touchscreen PC applications and uses could win me over, if not now then later, when the hardware and software has had time to become more established?
[ I'm a hard sell. Read Windows 8: Why I Won't Upgrade. ]
Note: I'm focused here more on user interface issues than under-the-hood performance. In other words, my focus, like that of most users, is more on "does it work?" rather than "how does it work?" The attention is on touchscreen desktops and laptops, not tablets and smartphones; if it doesn't come with a full-blown keyboard, it doesn't count. There's a gray area in the ultrabook and hybrid categories. Suffice it to say that I'm thinking of hardware that I'm as or more likely to use at my desk than on a plane or train or in the back of a cab.
Bottom line: I'm interested in how touchscreen desktops and laptops might help businesspeople do their jobs better than the non-touch models they're likely still using today, because those reasons aren't readily apparent to me, especially with the current high prices. Below are four scenarios where I can see a touchscreen PC offering an advantage over a non-touch PC. I'm sure I'm missing some advantages, so I'd like to hear why you think touchscreens might work to the benefit of the traditional PC user in the comments section below or via email.
1. Web Browsing.
Like many folks these days, I seem to spend as much of my life online as off. That's particularly true when I'm working. Rare is the hour when there's not a browser window open on my laptop; in actuality, it's multiple browser windows, or at least multiple tabs. Although the Web browser is one of my most frequently used apps on my phone, too, I sometimes find the experience frustrating. That's partly a function of screen size and partly due to the mobile Web's relative immaturity. Occasionally, spotty network service is the culprit.
The browser experience on a touchscreen PC could -- and probably should -- become a big lure given how much time I spend online. This seems especially true as Web development continues to become more sophisticated over time, and as cloud services increasingly become the default setting. Indeed, a CEO I spoke with recently called browsing the Web on her Windows 8 convertible "incredible," even though other aspects of her experience were less than stellar.
2. PowerPoint (And Its Competition).
Reader glenn817 chimed in on a recent piece with a prediction that Microsoft will significantly expand the touch capabilities of its Office suite in an upcoming release. "Can you imagine PowerPoint optimized for touch?" he wrote. "I can, and it makes me very happy."
I don't use PowerPoint as regularly as I did in some previous jobs, but I can absolutely see the upside in a PowerPoint version "purpose-built" -- to borrow the vendor marketing-speak phrase -- for the touchscreen PC. In fact, it could be the kick in the pants that PowerPoint needs to stay relevant over the long haul.
Microsoft probably doesn't want to hear this, but one of PowerPoint's upstart competitors, Prezi, might be an even better fit for touchscreen PCs. There's already an iPad version of the cloud software, so it seems like a no-brainer for Prezi to build a full-blown, touch-optimized Windows 8 app, especially given the less-linear nature of the presentations.
3. The Boardroom.
Anyone who's ever gotten the 5 p.m. "you need to present to the executive team at 9 a.m. tomorrow" email might want to pay close attention to this one. The boardroom (and its less prestigious sibling, the conference room) strikes me as an optimal environment for the larger screens enabled by PCs with touchscreens. Those screens could be ideal for presentations, if not creating content, especially for audiences with short attention spans that require bullet-point information. (It's called an "executive summary" for a reason.) The cool factor of touch can't hurt on that front, either. The Web and PowerPoint examples above are obvious fits in this context. There would also seem to be a conference-room upside in areas such as data visualization, business process modeling, sales and similar scenarios.
4. The Mystery App.
The app most likely to make me a believer? It doesn't exist yet. There's a reason why Microsoft is offering bounties for Windows 8 app development: There simply aren't enough apps for Windows 8 yet. There are even fewer when you eliminate apps that have little to no business purpose. That will surely change over time. But will there be an app -- or better yet several of them -- that will turn skeptics like me into the faithful converted?
In a follow-up column, I'll share with you the apps that make me struggle -- to put it mildly -- to see the advantages of a touchscreen PC.
In the meantime, are you a skeptic like me, or already a believer?
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