Here Come the Touchscreen Desktops and Laptops

Windows 8's compatibility with keyboard, track pad and touch has created a new world of possibilities for PC makers

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The touch-friendly Windows 8 is about two weeks away from launch, so it’s time for PC makers to start cramming touchscreens into all kinds of devices — not just convertible tablets.

Acer, for instance, has announced three laptops with touchscreens, two of them with 14-in. (35.6 cm) displays and one with a 15.6-in. (39.6 cm) display. That’s in addition to the 11.6-in. (29.5 cm) and 13-in. (33 cm) Aspire S7 Ultrabooks that Acer announced last week. Vizio, meanwhile, is converting its 24-in. (61 cm) and 27-in. (68.6cm) all-in-one PCs into touchscreen devices in preparation for Windows 8.

The idea with these devices is that once you’ve had a taste of Windows 8, you’ll just want to reach out and touch the screen. (Another theory holds that with the rise of smart phones and tablets, any device that doesn’t have touch just seems unnatural.)

Still, I’m not totally sold on the concept of traditional laptops and desktops with touchscreens. The common argument against these types of devices is the risk of “gorilla arm,” the idea that prolonged use of a vertical touchscreen eventually tires out the muscles.

The main counterargument I’ve heard to this idea is that while you may not always want to get touchy-feely with a laptop or desktop, the ability to do so is nice to have. But that only holds true if the cost of the device doesn’t significantly escalate. With Acer’s and Vizio’s new machines, touch adds about $100 to the price, which in my mind pushes the feature into luxury status.

Ultimately most PC makers will have to figure out ways to make all their touchscreen devices convertible to some extent. Lenovo is on the right track with its IdeaPad Yoga laptops, which have keyboard panels that swivel all the way around into tablet form. The Yoga is clearly a laptop first, but it allows the track pad and keyboard to get out of the way when they’re not needed. Sony also has the right idea with the Vaio Tap 20, an all-in-one PC that can stand upright or fold flat into a tabletop tablet.

The fact that Windows 8 embraces the keyboard and track pad as well as touch has created a sort of Wild West for PC makers. They’re trying lots of ideas, and while some will be refined and improved over time, others just aren’t going to shake out. My guess is that traditional laptops and desktops with touchscreens will fall into the latter category as PC makers come up with more clever ways to integrate touch.

MORE: Sony’s Tap 20: This Desktop PC Thinks It’s a Tablet