“We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time you start to fatigue, and after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off.” –
What Jobs was referring too in this speech from 2010 was, of course, gorilla arm; a by-product of holding your arm in a vertical position while performing micro-movements on a touchscreen with one’s finger.
There have been many rumors over the years that Apple would introduce a touchscreen laptop, and it seems there’s no smoke without fire – patents have been filed and, by Jobs’ own admission, the company has carried out extensive user-testing in the field. Based on its research, however, it seems any plans to introduce a touchscreen MacBook were shelved long ago.
However, having used a touchscreen Windows 8 machine on and off for more than a year, I can safely say my arm has remained human at every juncture. And the key lies in how I’ve been using the touchscreen.
There’s not a chance in hell I’d forego a mouse and keyboard on a laptop. They’re essential facets of usability, functionality and any other kind of -ality. But that doesn’t mean a touchscreen doesn’t fit right in alongside it. This blending of traditional peripherals and the more contemporary touch-based interface really works.
I still use a mouse for a lot of stuff, like highlighting words to copy/paste for example, and clicking on links. But as soon as I hit a page that requires scrolling, or even in the main Start screen where the Windows Store and all the apps are housed, the mouse is dropped and that trusty old forefinger really comes into its own. It’s never more than a few seconds at a time, plus my elbow actually sits rested on the desk – it’s not a big deal.
Confusing the debate
While I am wary of the wave of hybrid Windows devices that have hit the market – tabtops, convertibles or whatever other nomenclature takes your fancy – I just don’t like them. They’re trying to be too many things at once – call me old-fashioned, but I like my laptop to be a laptop and tablet to be a tablet. Some devices don’t even know if they’re Windows or Android.
And I’m still awaiting the first line of real quality Ultrabooks. Almost a year on from the Windows 8 launch, the selection of decent, portable, powerful laptops is pathetic.
Plus, Windows 8 isn’t that great an operating system – it’s not designed with its core user-base in mind. As with the hybrid machines, Windows 8 is trying to be too many things at once. Microsoft’s Windows Store is absolutely fine in itself, but the duality of the desktop and Windows UI (Metro) desktop apps is confusing.
But here is the point. All this natter around the pros and cons of poor software and hardware merely muddies the water when it comes to the touchscreen debate. Touchscreen laptops, as a concept, have become synonymous with Microsoft’s latest operating system (though Google has started dabbling in this realm), and thus haven’t had the chance to really take off.
With the right hardware and software, I can’t see touchscreen laptops being anything other than successful. It’s almost as though Jobs & Co. were anticipating that people would use a touchscreen machine exclusively with their extended arm and forefinger – of course that would never work, it’s not a natural way to interact with a computer.
But alongside a mouse and keyboard, touchscreens fit in pretty well and I’d be surprised if nearly all machines – be it Windows, Mac, Chromebook or a new contender – weren’t touchscreen-enabled a few years from now. I just hope that the keyboard and mouse aren’t ushered out the back door in the process.
Meanwhile, if you want to see what a touchscreen MacBook might look like, check out this concept video below.