Windows 8 was rebuilt from the ground up with a finger-friendly focus. That proved to be a problem during the operating system's early days. In the months immediately after launch, touchscreen Windows devices cost an arm and a leg, and that's if you could even find one; during the 2012 holiday season shoppers were hard-pressed to find a touch-based laptop.
Now, however, Microsoft's touchy-feely thrust is starting to shake up the laptop market, according to a recent report. Nearly 10 percent of all laptops shipped worldwide during the first three months of 2013 were touch enabled, according to IHS DisplayBank (and as reported by DigiTimes).
Even though a push into Windows 8 touch devices was expected, DisplayBank's numbers are surprising. Other research firms were expecting a much slower adoption rate.
For example, NPD's DisplaySearch said in April that it expected touch-enabled touchscreen notebooks to surpass 12 percent by the end of 2013. If DisplayBank's numbers are accurate, notebook touchscreen shipments could be on their way to beating early projections of 15 percent for all of 2013, IDC research director David Daoud told PCWorld. (IDC and PCWorld are both owned by International Data Group.)
Nevertheless, Daoud is still less than impressed with the touchscreen notebook push.
"Total volume of notebooks dropped considerably [during the first quarter of 2013 compared to the year previous]," Daoud said. "Ten percent of a dwindling market does not represent a great deal of achievement."
Daoud also notes that DisplayBank's figures mean that roughly 9 out of 10 notebooks didn't ship with touch. That's not "in line with what Windows 8 seeks to achieve from a usage perspective," he said.
Touch, touch, and more touch
As we move into the second half of 2013 and into 2014, it's a virtual certainty that we'll be seeing more touch-enabled laptops.
DisplayBank expects touchscreen notebooks to remain at 10 percent market share for the rest of the year, or possibly even grow. Some of the major Asia-based PC manufacturers--including Acer, Asus, and Lenovo--are already shooting to ship more than 20 percent of their notebooks with touch, according to DisplayBank. Earlier in May, DisplaySearch predicted touch-enabled notebook shipments would grow by 48 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.
Intel's also making a major push towards touch. As part of the Haswell roll out in the coming months, Intel will require any Haswell-powered Ultrabook to come loaded with a touchscreen. That could be a big deal if Ultrabook prices drop below $600, as some Intel executives have predicted. The company predicts its "Bay Trail" chips could spark a wave of even cheaper touchscreen Windows notebooks and hybrids, with some Android-powered touchscreen laptops possibly hitting $200.
There's no doubt about it: Touch is here to stay. The big question, however, is whether finger-friendliness and ever-dropping prices will be big enough draws to help bolster a struggling PC market.