Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Window 8 – Twenty First Pass: Windows 8.1 Touch Screen Updates

One of the challenges early on with Windows 8 was the heavy emphasis on the touch environment in a world lacking touch devices.  Much has changed over the past year as almost any new device you’d purchase; with the exception of most desktop monitors and some laptops are touch screen devices.  As a result, the touch interface is becoming more and more prevalent.

While that is great for home users and most personal machines the vast majority of business machines still do not have touch screens.  That makes it fun for users who are used to a touch device at home and then get frustrated tapping the screen at work and watching as nothing happens.  This could explain the increase in pen holes in LCD monitors the world over.  This may also create an increase in BYOD as folks get used to and want to maintain their touch environment.

That said the touch features in Windows 8.1 have been improved upon.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that some of these features are very similar to operating systems like iOS and Android.

There have been several swiping improvements:
  • You can now swipe down to get to the camera from the lock screen.  Very handy if you use your Surface or other device for taking pictures while locked.
  • In Windows 8, you could swipe an app in from the left and it would take up half the screen.  In Windows 8.1, you can swipe the app in from the left and then drag it to determine how much of the screen you want each app to have.  Windows 8.1 also allows you to have multiple apps doing this based on your resolution.  A Surface can only split the screen and do 2 apps however, a larger monitor can do up to 5 apps depending on the resolution.  Of course, if you were doing this on a larger monitor you wouldn’t be using the touch interface but rather the mouse to drag each app in.
  • Some apps will also automatically launch splitting the screen in side-by-side mode.  This is for things like reading your email and opening a picture.  Instead of your email going away, the screen would split and you’d see the picture in the photo app next to the email app allowing you to automatically view both at once.
  • All apps from the start menu can now be accessed by simply swiping up, but not up from the bottom of the screen, you want to swipe up from above the bottom otherwise you get the bottom menu.  This makes it easy to see All Apps and not just those on the Start Menu.
  • The PC Configuration settings have also been improved so you can control more with the touch interface and slide switches to turn things off.  This means you don’t have to visit the desktop control pane as often.
  • Several of the build in Start Screen apps like Mail and Calendar have also been improve to provide much greater functionality from the touch screen.  I have found both to be very useful when using my Surface without a mouse or keyboard or even the touch pen.
Fortunately you can still do all of this with the mouse.  Granted you have to learn how to do everything 2 different ways but that may help make the transition from touch to non-touch devices either.

The ultimate goal is for Windows 8 and future version to be the all-in-one OS allowing for touch, non-touch, phone, and tablet to all be the same user experience.  Whether Microsoft can pull this off and keep the rest of us going along with it remains to be seen.

Touch or not to touch, that is the question.