When Windows 8 came out, touch screen laptops became incredibly common, much to most tech nerds' annoyance. After all, they seem like a needless accessory: why touch the screen when you have a trackpad? But I took the tactile plunge and have slowly grown to love my touch screen.
Touch Screens Are Intuitive
Give any toddler a device with a screen and they will probably swipe at it; they were born into a world of iPads and other devices with which tactile interactivity is the norm. It's just... intuitive. The screen is there, the icons are right there, why wouldn't you reach out and touch them?
Yes, you could say that they learned that behaviour from watching us, but I'd go so far as to say we un-learned it. Faced with an old cathode ray tube, a toddler would likely paw that screen too, regardless of previous exposure to touch devices. It just makes sense to reach out and see what happens. My point being that manipulating items on the screen by touching them is simply intuitive, and hasn't been prevalent until now simply because of technological limitations.
So how does this come into play on my daily driver laptop?
Why Touching Is Easier Than Clicking
Though my laptop is the kind that folds over into a tablet mode, I rarely use it that way. I just use it as a normal laptop with a keyboard. And yet I find myself touching the screen all the time. Just to scroll through webpages or to close or move windows, there are a lot of minor gestures that I don't even think about until I'm faced with a traditional display — when I foolishly reach out to the screen and stop short before smudging the passive glass.
It's a simple delight that I can accurately manipulate images and maps by pinching to zoom. Does it change the way I work? Not really, to be honest, but it's a minor barrier removed from how I interact with the computer. More complicated two or three finger gestures have to be learned, but manipulating an image in a digital space by reaching out and touching it requires no real thought at all. And it gives you some very fine precision.
The most frequent way I use it, though, is fairly mundane: scrolling through articles by pushing the text upwards, the same way you would on your phone. Again, it's not life-changing, but it just works, and I was surprised at how quickly it became second nature without trying.
But It Comes at a Cost
There is a downside, unfortunately. The biggest drawback of a touch screen displays is their impact on battery life. One study estimated battery performance to be as much as 24 per cent worse compared to the same model laptop without a touch screen. That's understandably a deal breaker for a lot of people. Touch screens also typically cost more than traditional displays.
And then there's the matter of UI design. Despite a reasonable catalogue of Modern or "Metro" apps on Windows, most software isn't designed with touch screen in mind. The tablet mode of Windows 10 also offers a few improvements over 8, but I still wouldn't rely only on touch-focused software. The complex and minuscule controls in something like Adobe Photoshop aren't optimised for my clumsy fingers, and I wouldn't use the touch screen for that purpose.
And that's the kicker. I don't use the touch screen as my primary means of controlling the computer. It's simply another tool in how I work and browse the web. It's not for everyone, but it's a minor bit of Jetsons living that makes me happy.
Contact the author at [email protected]