Daily Archives: August 24, 2013

Underwhelming Technology: Touchscreens

When I bought my most recent laptop and desktop, I went ahead and got a versions with touchscreens built in, because, hey, why not, it’s the wave of the future and in any event within a year it would be standard issue tech, etc. I wasn’t entirely sure if I would use them, but I thought there might be a good reason to use them that I hadn’t thought of. Well, it’s been several months now and I think I can safely say that generally speaking, touch screens on laptops and desktops are mostly pointless, at least to me.

Some reasons, in no particular order:

1. I spend most of my time in my desktop environment, on applications that don’t really have much use for the touch interface — or when the touch interface is there, it’s usually markedly inferior to the mouse/trackpad interface.

2. Trackpads in particular have gotten rather better recently (Apple has a lock on this, but even Windows 8 shows a dramatic improvement on this), so the additional utility of a touchscreen is lessened relative to the greater utility of the trackpad.

3. Stopping to touch the screen breaks my workflow, which is not a great thing.

4. The times that I have used the touchscreen on my desktop have made me aware that having a screen that big generally defeats the purpose of having a touchscreen as it is most often used today. I tried playing Fruit Ninja on it and quickly learned that there’s just too much real estate to get across (and in a vertical position, no less).

5. I’m old(er) and possibly set in my ways so the touchscreen interface requires me to have to learn something new, which I don’t always want to do.

The last of these, I’ll note, is the least convincing to me, since the Scalzi Compound has several tablets and phones scattered around it and I really have no problem using the touch interface on those; I’m not wandering about angry that I can’t use a mouse on my iPad. A touch interface makes sense on an phone or tablet; it really makes less sense on a laptop or desktop.

The thing that brought that home to me, actually, was the Chromebook I have (and on which I am writing this right now). It doesn’t have a touchscreen, unlike my Dell XPS 12, and I find that this matters almost exactly zero in terms of the relative utility ┬áthat I get out of the two computers on a day to day basis. I have no need or interest in touching the Chromebook screen, especially now that the trackpad is lightyears ahead of the CR-48 I got a couple of years back. Likewise, except for the relatively few times I use the XPS 12 as a tablet (it has a flippable screen), the touchscreen capability goes almost entirely unused on it.

Bear in mind this is a reflection of a) how I use desktop/laptops and b) the current state of touchscreens in these formats. I fully expect in five years I may have several really excellent reasons to use a touchscreen on the desktop or laptop. But then again, it wouldn’t surprise me if I don’t, either. Maybe at the end of the day it’s just not the right format for touch, and the touchscreen — which will nevertheless become a standard feature, because it’s getting there already — will be just another one of those things you have on your computer but almost never use more than 1% of the time.

I guess what I’m really saying is that if I had to do it all over again, the last time I bought a laptop I probably would have gone for another MacBook Air instead of the XPS 12. The XPS 12 is a fine little computer, to be clear, and I’ve been pretty happy with it overall. But I went with it on the expectation that I would be doing more with the touchscreen than I do. The irony is that by the next time I am in the market for a laptop, it’s almost certain Airs will have touchscreens. Which I probably won’t use much.