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Can One User Interface Fit All? A Touchy Win 8 Question

Can One User Interface Fit All? A Touchy Win 8 Question
By Barry Levine

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It remains to be seen whether businesses and consumers want touch-interaction in so many devices, said analyst Sarah Rottman Epps, but she pointed out that there are also other Windows 8 interaction modes, such as touch with keyboard, that Microsoft is championing. Rotman said she found Windows 8's keyboard/touchscreen combo appealing.
 



One minute after midnight Friday morning, Microsoft's new OS platform for laptops, desktops and tablets became officially available -- and the company moved into a different era. But does it represent a turning point for the company?

Some observers are suggesting that, while Windows 8/Windows RT is a bold attempt by Microsoft to get a foothold in the booming tablet market, it also represents the first major step into what the company believes is the post-tablet era. This new phase in computing, according to this thinking, is oriented around touch-based interactions, even on laptops and desktops.

Apple, of course, has taken a "keep 'em separate" approach to touch-based tablets and other mobile devices versus mouse and keyboard-oriented laptops/desktops. Apple CEO Tim Cook, for instance, has told news media that one could design a car that both flies and floats, "but I don't think it would do either of those things very well."

All Screens Touchable?

On the other hand, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky, head of the Windows division, has said that all screens should be touchable, and a variety of PC manufacturers are quickly moving to accomplish that goal via touchscreen all-in-ones and convertible laptops/tablets.

We asked several Microsoft-following analysts if the Windows 8 launch represents a major turning point for the company, the personal computing industry, or both.

Forrester's Sarah Rotman Epps said the launch was undoubtedly "a major turning point for Microsoft," adding that it was a "huge, huge jump."

A key aspect of that, she said, is that now there's a "tension between its own business and the business of its manufacturing partners," notably because of Microsoft's launch of its own tablet, Surface.

The OS release also represents a major turning point because of the new touch-based interface in Windows 8 and RT, she said. "Touch interaction is compelling," Rotman told us, but touch-sensitive computers also add costs to the price.

'Transform Itself'

It remains to be seen whether businesses and consumers want touch-interaction in so many devices, but she pointed out that there are also other interaction modes, such as touch with keyboard, that Microsoft is championing to a greater extent than others have done before. Rotman said that she found the keyboard/touchscreen combo to be appealing and "not difficult to learn."

Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said that "we are definitely in a new era," but it's because users are "no longer tied to a desktop."

Apple's view, he pointed out, is that desktops and laptops "have one set of capabilities and interactive modes," while mobile computing should be kept "deliberately simple" because they have other factors at play. Accordingly, he said, Apple has developed a smartphone OS and moved it to the tablet, while Microsoft has "taken a desktop OS and moved it to mobile."

It's not so much that Windows 8/RT represents a turning point for Microsoft, Greengart told us, as it is the company's "bid to transform itself" to conform to this new era in which it finds itself, an era where it is still struggling to get a foothold in mobile.

Ross Rubin of Reticle Research echoed both Rotman's description of new interaction modes and Greengart's contention that Microsoft is simply migrating to the new era. Rubin said that Microsoft "would argue Windows 8, for all of its changes and improvements, like faster boot time or a new processor architecture, just extends the PC era toward new ways of working." The company, he added, sees that we're in an era when users employ "a mix of inputs," such as voice, touch, or mouse-keyboard, to "get the job done."
 

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