Microsoft has considered touch in Windows for decades – Windows XP Tablet PC Edition on HP’s TC1000 being a notable early success. The arrival of the Surface range saw a renewed push on touch in Windows, and arguably Microsoft showing the way with those early Surface 2 in 1 machines nudged the industry to follow.
As the Surface range grew, and Windows 10 continued to evolve, Microsoft’s use of touch has improved.
With the launch of Windows 11, Microsoft has leaned further into touch-based computing. With a focus on Windows 11 being usable in multiple ‘mode’, touch features heavily in the UI. That allows for so-called “lean back” computing for consuming media, or working comfortably in a comfy chair. Pen-based computing also comes under touch, and again the various modes that can be used for this (think the easel-styled Surface Studio, or using the Pro 8 in your hand.
That process continues, with the announcement this week that touch controls in Windows 11 are going to be improved in an upcoming update. This will focus on the touch snap layouts, which automatically layer out app windows to present as much information on screen to allow for better multitasking.
Meanwhile, Apple’s focus on touch has been a feature exclusively for its mobile devices – especially the keyboard/touch combination of the iPad and iPad Pro family as “your next computer”. The Mac platform felt ignored, going through the motions of trying to be ever-thinner and fitting into Intel’s roadmap.
The move to the ARM-based Apple Silicon has revitalised the platform. Apple is bringing the phones, tablets, laptops and desktops closer together in both hardware (the M1 chip can be found in the Mac laptops and the iPad Pro tablets) and in software (with emulation allowing iPad apps to run on macOS, and the sharing of keyboards and trackpads through Apple Universal Control, are two notable examples).
Why Apple has not added touch to the Mac family remains a mystery. There is obvious synergy with the rest of the product line-up if it were to be added, yet the artificial wall between the Mac and both iPhone and iPad remains.
A significant amount of experience with touch, an increased focus on how touch is used in various environments, and an opposition that is missing an open goal. Microsoft is in a strong position here, and this week’s news of improvements to touch will only increase that position.