Basic comments about Windows 8’s touch screen user-interface
A key user-interface concept in the next version of Windows will be a “Start Screen” that looks like a cross between Windows Phone 7’s home screen and the Windows Media Center interface. Here, this dashboard will have “Live Tiles” which present always-updated information in the window panes.
There will be the full integrated support for tablet computers and similar devices with an interface that works best with these devices as well as a regular keyboard / mouse interface. One issue that may affect software developers is that they may have to work the software so it can behave properly with a “no-keyboard” interface as well as a “keyboard” interface. Of course, the touchscreen keyboard interface will support a split layout so that the user can work the keys with their thumbs.
For some programs that primarily use mouse interaction like strategy or puzzle games, there won’t need to be much work done on having the programs work between a keyboard interface or a touch interface. But on the other hand, programs that rely on text entry such as email, the program may have to work with remapping the user interface to permit use of the virtual keyboard interfaces.
But where could this all lead to when it comes to the design of Windows-based computers?
Ever since Windows allowed for “tablet-style” computing with the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, where the computer is operated using a stylus rather than by touch, there have been two form factors put forward to the market. One was the “slate” form factor which is like the tablet computers such as the iPad, where there isn’t a keyboard but the computer could work with a USB-connected keyboard; and the other was a “convertible” notebook computer with a screen that swivelled 180 degrees and folded flat to become a stylus-operated PC. There have been a few touchscreen variants of these form factors released subsequently once Windows Vista provided the touchscreen interface option.
The “slate” or “tablet” form factor could exist as an alternative to the iPad and Android-based tablet computers; and they could allow for operation with small keyboards for word-processing and emailing. But the computer press have forgotten about the “convertible” notebook form factor which has seen some resurgence with some manufacturers running with “netvertibles” – netbooks that have a touchscreen which can swivel between a traditional layout and a tablet layout.
Windows 8 vs the Apple platforms.
Another article had raised issues about Windows 8 becoming a competitor for a subsequent version of Apple’s iOS platform, especially the iPad implementation.
But they also raised the spectre of it competing with the next version of MacOS X, known as “Lion”. The main factor about this is that Apple were viewing the MacOS platform as a “horizontal” platform and the iOS platform as a “vertical” platform; with scant mention of any touch-enabled Macintosh computers coming on the scene.
The possibility of a granular touch-based computer marketplace
What I would see with these touch-based operating systems is the ability for hardware manufacturers to provide a granular marketplace for touch-based computing devices. This means that there could be a touch-based computing device that could suit particular users’ needs and budgets.
It would range from the 7” coat-pocket tablets serving as an alternative to a dedicated ebook reader through 10” tablets like the iPad fulfilling most general-purpose “dedicated-tablet” needs to 13”-14” convertible notebooks appealing to those of us who do plenty of emailing, word-processing or similar work on the road.
Of course, the operating environments for units that are 10” or above will differ across the marketplace in a similar way to what is happening with the smartphones. Here, users may place emphasis on factors like software availability, operating-system flexibility, battery runtime and system performance as they choose the operating environment.
The proposed Windows 8 environment could then become a game change when it comes to the touch-based computing environment.