Touchscreens and the Myth of Windows 8 ‘Gorilla Arm’

I'll be surprised if you can buy a computer five years from now that doesn't have a touchscreen -- Apple products included.

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A lot has been said about Windows 8. Some of it positive, some of it negative. With all things Microsoft, we certainly need to give the company a version or two grace period. I’m not going to do a lengthy analysis of Windows 8 here but I’d like to make some points about the touch experience on new Windows 8 PCs and, more importantly, I’d like address a term that gets thrown around: Gorilla Arm.

Gorilla Arm is a term that has come about in reference to more traditional PC computing form factors, like desktops and notebooks, when such form factors have touch features that leave the user with tired arms from having to reach up and touch the screen for long periods of time. When I first heard about what Microsoft was doing, I as well had my doubts that consumers could have a pleasant experience with touchscreen-based notebooks and desktops. However, after working with several touchscreen notebooks, I can see the value of touch in all form factors that will run Windows 8.

Touch + Mouse + Keyboard

The first thing we need to understand about Windows 8 is what the touch paradigm means to the overall experience. Those who have brought up concerns about Gorilla Arm with touch-based Windows 8 machines may have assumed that the touch experience was more critical to the overall implementation than it actually is. In fact, I feel the best way to understand touch as it relates to Windows 8, is that it is more about navigation than input.

Although all Windows 8 notebooks and desktops support input devices like trackpads and mice, touch is an additional way to navigate programs, bring up useful menus and more. And in many cases I find the touch navigation to be quicker than a mouse or trackpad for things like swiping through open applications, changing settings, closing applications, scrolling through programs in the Windows 8 menu, and many more tasks that were once limited to a pointing device.

This does not mean that during my experience with Windows 8 I have been using touch only, but rather as a more convenient navigation mechanism for many simple things. Multi-touch trackpads, which are being implemented on many new notebooks and Ultrabooks, provide a sufficient experience on their own, but the addition of touch as an option I feel will not only be welcomed by users of Windows 8 but also may evolve into the preferred input mechanism for many navigation and other simple input tasks.

A good example of some use cases I have noticed with Windows 8 touch versus traditional mouse and keyboard input relates to the new Windows 8 user interface versus the traditional desktop user interface, both of which exist in Windows 8. From my own experience as well as some of the early observational studies we have done with consumers using Windows 8, it seems as though touch becomes the preferred input mechanism and fundamentally replaces the mouse for many while in the new interface mode seen below.

Microsoft

Yet when they get to the desktop side of the interface, which is similar to Windows 7, they go back to the mouse and keyboard combo. Much of this has to do with the way each user experience is architected from a software standpoint. Some call this a schizophrenic user experience, some just call it confusing, but the bottom line is that Windows 8 has a touch paradigm which I believe is useful, and a traditional mouse and keyboard interface for tasks requiring more precise input.

Better with Touch

With everything I am mentioning about touch on Windows 8, I have convinced myself that the absolute best Windows 8 experience includes a device with a touchscreen. This is not to say that Windows 8 is horrible on a notebook or desktop which does not include touch, simply that it is better with touch.

This presents an unfortunate two-part challenge for Microsoft, one immediate and one longer term. The immediate challenge is that the retail environment for these new touch and non-touch Windows 8 devices is a mess. Confusing is too nice of a word. When you walk into any major retailer to look at the latest lineup of Windows 8 products, in many cases, there is no telling which has touch and which doesn’t. In my opinion, much of the retail environment for new Windows 8 hardware does not allow for the full experience to be showcased. I have heard from those in the retail channels that this is going to get better. It absolutely has to — and quickly.

The second issue, which is much more longer term, is around the question of how quickly hardware manufacturers can get touchscreens into all their products in a timely fashion and at a more mainstream price point. From what I can gather at this point, we will be lucky if 50% of new hardware in the notebook and desktop segments features touch in 2013. The question remains as to whether or not we can bring mass market pricing to those products or not by the holidays next year.

It is way too early to call Windows 8 a failure, no matter what any of the pundits say. Whether or not it is the immediate answer to the slumping PC segment is an entirely different conversation. Regardless, Windows 8 will be on over 300 million machines by the end of next year if our current worldwide PC sales rate stays at the same rate it has for the past few years — which is likely.

We are at the early stages of a massive transition for Microsoft as a company. One where the need to reinvent itself is critical, as is the need to stay relevant in the computing industry’s growth categories: tablets and smartphones. Touch is a foundational element for Microsoft to embrace going forward. In fact, I’ll be surprised if you can buy a computer five years from now that doesn’t have a touchscreen — Apple products included.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

35 comments
DaveKernen
DaveKernen

Ben, you clearly don't know what schizophrenia is. And using one of the most horrible of mental illnesses as an analogy is just wrong.  You wouldn't use another mental illness, or even a physical illness, in an analogy, so why schizophrenia? 

jenn1
jenn1

Any help for a Gorilla Arm pain? I love my ultraportable, but got serious case of Gorilla Arm. I've plugged in a mouse, but find it a real hassel to carry & use all the time. I am doing everything with my left arm as much as possible now (even brushing my teeth) and find my left hand to be very clumsy. Suggestions? Thanks

revstevelarson
revstevelarson

Thanks for the great and sensible article. I've been using Windows 8 with a touch screen for some time now, and my sentiments are exactly the same. It has enhanced my experience with the computer, so much so that I traded in my Macbook Pro because it felt very old fashioned all of a sudden. I now have a touch screen laptop as well and am loving it. It is very comfortable to reach out and touch something!

PeterHamlin
PeterHamlin

Thank you!!! Humans painted on cave walls 35,000 years ago. Artists paint on easels. Teachers write on blackboards. Children walk up to pictures and TV screens and bulletin boards and point at stuff. There is no "gorilla arm." This is the invention of tech writers who don't look up from the screen long enough to watch people in the physical world.

I was in BestBuy yesterday -- people are now walking up to all the demo models (including the vast majority that are not touch) and swiping the screen. This is a completely natural and familiar motion. I love being liberated from the mouse/touchoad (i.e. just grabbing something on the screen instead of chasing after it with a 12" inch mouse/touchpad motion). And, yeah, when you need the precision of the touchpad, you use that. This all comes quickly and naturally.

I think within a very short time touchscreens will be universal and we will wonder how we got along without them.

Peter

VisualplanetLtd
VisualplanetLtd

I agree with Gary, convergence is the key, a consistant touch interface across all formats small to large into all walks of life, home, office, and out of home etc 

AMARANADNRAJAH
AMARANADNRAJAH

@TIME @Techland I only want to talk about THAT with N or we don't talk at all :-)))))))))))))))

ServingSmilez
ServingSmilez

@TIME @Techland The best way to win an argument is to begin by being right. - Jill Ruckelshaus

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Inasmuch as I'm sure touch PC's appeal to many, I don't think it will appeal to most.

For example, I sit at least two and a half feet from my monitor.  On a laptop, my screen still isn't in my face.  My hands can get greasy, and so will the screen - adding one more point of maintenance to the problem of dealing with computers.

On portable devices, I can understand touch being more important, but I don't believe that tablets are going to ever be able to replace desktops.  Ever.  Desktops will always do productivity far better than tablets.  On a laptop, I can't imagine using touch if one has a mouse.  The track pad can get annoying and I can see how touch would augment that, but again, it's not as precise as a mouse and there are a lot of people out there who don't have the steadiest of hands who NEED a different input device.  Touch doesn't preclude them from getting it, but I don't see the point to making TOUCH the primary UI of choice.

My beef with Windows 8 isn't that it HAS touch (so did Windows 7).  My beef is that the touch UI isn't an OPTION.  It's what you HAVE to deal with right out of the box.  A simple configuration tweak in set-up (that can be changed in the control panel) to pick a Touch or Non-touch UI at set-up and it's set.

Of course, in that case, I have yet to see anything in Windows 8 that isn't in Windows 7.

So while the author may wax poetic about the virtues of touch, I'm pretty sure he sat within a foot or so of the screen.  That isn't a comfortable position for very long.  I can sit for double-shifts in my position without breaking a sweat - and never once need to reach out and do with my finger what I'm trying to do with my mouse.  Since the author is speaking from his perspective, I thought I'd offer an alternative perspective.

Touch ain't for everyone, and for desktop PC's, it's about as useful as an outboard motor on a canoe.

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

Whether we like it or not, we are experiencing what Bill Gates used to call (probably still does) convergence.

Our consumer electronics technologies are merging together, sometimes in a good way some times it isn't so clear.

Tablets and Laptops and Ultrabooks are merging into convertibles (like the "Surface") and in this format the use of a touch screen as either a primary or secondary interface is a definite benefit and there is no reason to think that the user can't choose for himself which interface he'd like to use based on the current system configuration and his preferences.

IPads are being used with keyboards all the time and there are game pad interfaces to Android tablets.

Microsoft is trying to give us an interface that will do it all and that is a good thing, but Windows 8 definitely has some issues relating to the old interfaces and the old ways of doing things and I think that is a mistake.

I bought 2 Windows 7 but Windows 8 compatible computers with the nifty you can get Windows 8 deal when it first comes out for only $14.95.

Great, clinched the deal.

Got the Win 7 HP Envy Laptop and Dell Desktop and really like them; Win 7 is a lot better than my previous XP computers.

When upgrade time came around I ran Microsoft's nifty little Windows 8 compatibility checker and found out that 14 (different) programs on each of my computers are incompatible With Windows 8 without brand new expensive latest upgrade versions from the manufacturers. 

Many of these are programs I use often, but not often enough to pay what are now often ludicrous upgrade fees.

And some are simply not compatible at all.

All at once $14.95 looks a lot more like $4000.00 or $5000.00 (CAD, Photo and Video Editing and even some of Microsoft's own Software development systems that are free on Windows 7 and before).

That and in a non touch screen environment, lots of people are complaining that Windows 8 comes up short in the user interface department compared with Windows 7.

Haven't upgraded yet, probably not going to, I would have lived with the User interface issues, but the incredible cost of upgrading my software, no way.

bottledwater
bottledwater

This has been my experience as well. You don't think you'll want or use touch on larger devices, but you do - quite a lot. I'm actually looking forward to a Kinect type device that works on desktops with multiple displays. That's the one place I don't see myself touching my screens as they are color calibrated and more difficult to clean.

Denesius
Denesius

This article, while terribly naive and/or biased, does bring up some good points. For another point of view, more real-world based, look at the following link. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/windows-8.html   It's a post from the Nielsen Norman Group, and it looks at issues that are glossed over or totally ignored by Mr Bajarin, such as the 'screen real-estate desert', lack of intuitiveness and the memory overhead that Win-8 consumes.

benriz
benriz

you guys really miss the point, 90% of us are sitting at a desk looking at a screen, absolutely no benefit in touch,  Adding touch to desktops adds cost without benefit. The reason Windows 8 will fail as a desktop/ laptop platform is that it offers no advantage to the end  user and has a stiff learning curve. The first thing I did after installing 8 was download an add on to make the titles go away, once you do that it is just like Windows 7.  There is a reason that the overwhelming # of reviews of 8 on desktop / laptop have been negative

BrentonKlassen
BrentonKlassen

Great article!  I've found the same thing with my touch laptop.  I use a combination of input methods for typing, swiping, and clicking.  It works amazingly well and I use my touchscreen lots more than I ever thought I would!  The next item on my shopping list is a touch screen monitor for my desktop PC.

revstevelarson
revstevelarson

@DeweySayenoff Different strokes. I work with my computer for hours at a time and am also somewhere between 18" and 2 feet from the screens. When I want to make a selection, I extend my arm and voila, the screen is right there. I'm not a big guy with long arms, but it has become very natural to do this. I suppose there were people who thought the mouse was unnecessary when it came out. Sometimes, it's healthy to change the way you do things. I'm loving it!

TylerPridemore
TylerPridemore

@DeweySayenoff What do you mean an option to turn on and off the Touchscreen UI. Windows 8 looks the same regardless of whether not it is touch. If you are referring to Metro, it's simply a full-screen Start Menu replacement. Last time I checked, the Start Menu was pretty essential to Windows. That's why there is not an option to remove it.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@DeweySayenoff Those are good points.   I agree with you about the issues with those who sit at desks for long periods of time, especially in front of large monitors at a farther distance.   To your point I also agree that the experience with just mouse and keyboard is pretty poor.  

I think there is a gigantic section of the market who does not sit a desk all day, and even if they do, that machine may not be the one they take home.   In my analysis I am heavily dividing Windows 8 into the business and consumer markets.   We know enterprises are not going to adopt Win 8 in large hoards so realistically MSFTs big target for business is Windows 9.   At which point they will hopefully solve this split and perhaps have two pure versions of Windows.  One for corporate and one for consumers.  

Thanks for the comment. 

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

@GaryRMcCray Um, I upgraded and didn't have any problems with my apps, including a couple that the upgrade assistant didn't even detect. Back up your data and give it a whirl, man.

skyledavisbooks
skyledavisbooks

@Denesius So, because @benbajarin's article does not iterate your opinion of Windows 8, that somehow invalidates is comments about touch? This article isn't really even about Windows 8 as a UI. It's about the benefit of touch as an HID on laptops and desktops. Memory overhead doesn't have anything to do with the article in question. If Apple announced next month that all iMacs and Macbooks would come in touch screen options, the article could be easily adapted to reflect this change. Just replace the last section ("Better With Touch") with an article about touch helping solidify and grow Apple's market share.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@Denesius I write about Apple and I'm biased, I write about Android and I am biased, I write about Microsoft and I am biased.  I wish commenters would make up their minds about me :)

I have read many surveys and UI studies from all the major vendors.  I do not disagree that their are some issues.  My point is largely based on keen observation work we have done with the middle and late majority, there is some upside potential to touch.   Again, not in all use cases, as those who sit at a desk all day, however that is not the mass global market.   

The trap many fall into, is to assume that their views or their minimal studies represent the mass market sentiment.  This is a big market and one that has very many different market needs.  

revstevelarson
revstevelarson

@benriz stiff learning curve? I think mine was 25 minutes. Have you actually tried windows 8 or simply reading reviews? Windows 8 is faster and more stable than windows 7 and I thought windows 7 was a great product. I put it on my 3 year old desktop and it zips. 

TylerPridemore
TylerPridemore

@benriz You made Metro go away? Did you then add a third party Start Menu application? You could have just used Metro as the Start Menu like it was intended and not go through any of the hassle. 

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

@benriz Really? I learned everything I needed to know if all of 5 minutes. One click and I'm in my desktop. And you can remove every single Modern UI app from the new Start Screen and simply have it populated with your Win32 apps. In W7, you had to click the Start button for anything that wasn't pinned to your Task Bar. Well, I can still pin apps to my W8 task bar, and if you take the time to rework your Start Screen, you might find it pleasing to your navigation. And, you can't be using that many apps. And the HUGE win for W8 is the integration with WP8 and having your settings follow you around from device to device by logging into your Microsoft Account. You really haven't spent any serious time using W8, if I had to point all of this out to you.

BrentonKlassen
BrentonKlassen

@benriz how much time do you spend looking at your touchscreen phone?  Windows 8 is for phones and tablets also.  You no longer need to sit at your desk and stare at your screen.  You can get up and take Windows home with you or on a trip with you.

adamaant
adamaant

@benriz If you count other tablets and smart phones touch screens Microsoft only has about 20% market share on computers at this point(according to a very recent Computer World blog. The vast majority of those are touch screen. Microsoft is offering what their competitors are already offering. I know that it might not be fair to compare a powerful desktop computer with a smart phone, but like it or not they are getting a lot more facetime (no pun intended) than traditional computers by many. Microsoft HAS to begin to offer what is obviously a feature that people like. As this article states, it just might take them a version or two to get it just right.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@benriz 90% is not representative of the entire mass consumer market.  Some sit at desks, other do not.. etc.. 

I do think it is too early to say its a failure.  I am trying to look at this in the big picture. 

TylerPridemore
TylerPridemore

@benbajarin @DeweySayenoff I think you both have a serious misconception about Metro. Metro is not a separate UI, and is not meant to be used separately. In Windows 7, a press of the Windows key would bring up the Start Menu. In Windows 8, it brings up Metro. In Metro, a large part of your applications are sorted. You can also just start typing to find a program or setting, just like Windows 7. 

Using Metro does not inhibit your desktop experience, it enhances it. Metro is just an expanded Start Menu. There is no need for a consumer and corporate version. The OS functions the same regardless of the type of input. 

Honesty007
Honesty007

Can you please tell us what is poor about the use of the mouse and keyboard in windows 8? What can you do in windows 7 with the mouse that you cannot do with it in windows 8? I am using windows 8, and the mouse works every bit as good with it as it did with windows 7. I haven't lost one iota of speed. So please enlighten us. This poor experience claim with the mouse on windows 8 is something that started with the tech media as a bias attack on MS, and is now just being repeated by many who cannot or do not think for themselves. I own both Apple and MS products by the way. By the way, are you by chance one of those individuals who gain productivity with an iPad by simple attacking a keyboard to it?

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

@worleyeoe @GaryRMcCray 

TurboCAD, Adobe PhotoshopCS, My current version of Office, my 3D design software and a lot more won't transfer without upgrading to the most recent (and expensive) versions. (The upgrades actually cost considerably more than I paid for the programs in the first place.)

Also My entire Microsoft C, C++, C# Development software requires paid and expensive upgrades to Microsoft.

And I am running several older programs for which no Windows 8 compatible upgrade is available.

I ran the Compatibility checker supplied by Microsoft to test program compatibility with Windows 8 and this is what it told me.

There is no way I can trust that Microsoft is wrong in it's own compatibility checker and no way I can take the chance that I might not be able to get back to my nice operational Windows 7 system.

I can not even begin to afford that level of mistake.

adamaant
adamaant

@benbajarin @Denesius Not to mention that most phones and tablets are touch screen, so that's the trend in computing. Ad to that, in the coming years we will have computers that are worn, and spoken to. Likely computer users will be combining traditional keyboard and mouse with touch, gestures, voice and even eye movements to navigate the digital world. This isn't a joke. Apple, Microsoft and Google are all working on glasses or goggles, and I read an article yesterday that they successfully created an LCD contact lens. 

DaveKernen
DaveKernen

@TylerPridemore

"Metro is not a separate UI, and is not meant to be used separately."

"Metro is just an expanded Start Menu."

Wrong on both counts. Metro is by design different than using desktop apps. Although you can run metro apps on the desktop, but only via a third party app. http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/windows-8-tip-run-metro-apps-windows-desktop 

And if Metro isn't meant to be used separately,  why does RT only have Metro. Seems quite separate to me. 

And it isn't JUST an expanded Start menu. I don't ever remember running apps within the start menu. The Start menu has always been just static icons. Now the "Start menu" looks and acts like Windows Phone. 

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

@GaryRMcCray @worleyeoe Oh! It sounded like you had multiple PC's that you could do an upgrade test. Gary, I've installed Office 2007 on W8 without a problem, so maybe that helps a little. Be that as it may, again you may find that there isn't a problem and these companies are simply being opportunistic. If at the very least, have you researched on the Internet about people having problems with TurboCAD and PhotoshopCS? Honestly, I would be a little skeptical just like I am about your post. Cheers!

benbajarin
benbajarin

@adamaant Agree about your comments on wearable.  Right now it is about screens and we are moving to multiple screens.  The longer term reality is that even those experiences with screens will fragment and evolve to be included in other devices and or screens.  

My biggest conviction at this point is that computing has been hampered by things like the mouse and keyboard which required a learning curve.   With the advent of touch, then speech, gestures, etc., those days are over and the masses can start embracing computing in ways they never could before.