Do consumers really want touchscreen PCs? (Because I don't)

I own an iPad, which I love dearly. I use it for lots of things -- games, email, browsing the web, social networking, writing, viewing photos and video, and remote accessing my PC. The iPad, like all tablets, is a true jack of all trades and a master of some too.

But, try as I might, I can’t use it for "real" tasks. While it’s fine for writing small-ish articles on, I could never write a novel on it -- and I’ve tried. For some reason, I just can’t connect with typing on a touchscreen in the same way I do when typing on a proper full-size keyboard. And I could never imagine attempting detailed Photoshop work on a touchscreen either (well, not without a fine stylus at least).

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been using a keyboard and mouse combo for so long that the old control method has become part of who I am when working. I sit down in front of my PC and the mouse and keyboard are there, in my hands without my ever really having to think about what I’m doing.

Touch is more deliberate. Of course I can zip around the iPad, switching apps, firing off emails and zooming in and out without thinking about it. It’s intuitive, but it’s not as fast or as comfortable. And when you put your fingers on the screen, you’re obscuring the view in a way a diminutive mouse cursor doesn’t.

When I’m working I’m at least twice as quick on my PC as I am on my iPad, and I’m usually doing lots more tasks at the same time too.

My point is while I love touch for lots of things, I can’t imagine it ever being the primary method of interacting with all the tech in my life and I really don't see the purpose of touchscreen PCs.

Is It Just Me?

The problem I have is I just don't think there's a need for touchscreen on PCs. It adds a third control method that's not required. And an awkward third control method at that. I know touch is useful for swiping through open apps in Windows 8, and performing other tasks in the OS (and admittedly it can be a little easier than using a trackpad at times), but I want to look at a screen directly ahead of me and interact with what it's showing me without stretching my arms out to it.

I asked around in our newsroom and my colleague Mihaita Bamburic agrees (so it’s not just me!), saying: "I share the same view. Touch is confusing because you have to reach out and then retract your arms in order to fully use it. I think we find it most convenient when the movement of our arms is done on the same level most of the time. Think about it, we move our left or right arm to the side to reach for the mouse and one stays on the keyboard at all times. It's natural to do so, it's habit. Now, with touchscreen PCs, we have to raise the left or right arm to do stuff, which I find tiresome in the long run".

Dire PC sales suggest -- to my mind at least -- that people don’t want to buy new computers with touchscreens and the touch-friendly Windows 8, because, well, they don’t need touchscreens. Touch is essential on tablets and mobile phones, but on PCs, where the issue of gorilla arm remains a problem, it’s not necessary, and it adds a lot of extra cost for no real gain.

As Isabelle Durand, Gartner principal research analyst, says: "The majority of consumers remain unwilling to pay the price premium for touchscreen capabilities on PCs at this stage".

Frankenstein Hybrids

Microsoft bet the farm on touch. It came up with an OS that works brilliantly on touch devices and not as well on bog-standard PCs (it’s not bad on them -- far from it -- but it’s not as good).

There are rumors that Microsoft is considering allowing users to skip the Start screen and restore the Start menu in the next version of Windows 8, which a lot of mice and keyboard users will appreciate, and which is clearly a good idea, but PC manufacturers aren’t going to stop pushing touchscreens on us. It’s the future, you see. Isabelle Durand again: "Touchscreens and Windows 8 will represent key opportunities for PC manufacturers in the second half of 2013".

According to the latest Touch Panel Market Analysis Report from NPD DisplaySearch, which was released a couple of days ago, manufacturers believe the penetration of touchscreens in notebook PCs is going to grow from under 3 percent last year to over 12 percent this year. Growth triggered, naturally enough, by Windows 8.

To drive this growth many manufactures are coming up with new types of PCs, such as flip and convertible models that can be both PCs and tablets. Great, except isn't that a bit like saying cars are great, and motorbikes are great, so here’s a car made up of two motorbikes stuck together. It can be an uncomfortable car, or it can be two slightly rubbish motorbikes.

Er, can’t I just have a great car AND a great motorbike?

Another analogy: touch is like 3D in the cinema. A few great movies came out which made excellent use of the third dimension -- well, Avatar -- and suddenly every film was 3D, including plenty which just didn’t work with an added dimension. Movie studios like 3D because they can charge more for people to see it, but consumers are less keen (a friend of mine runs a cinema and says 2D versions of movies are much more popular than their 3D counterparts, most of the time). 3D is a fad that’s now slowly dying out and hopefully touch -- on devices where it really doesn’t serve any great purpose -- will be too. But somehow I doubt it.

So my question for you is this: am I just swimming pointlessly against the tide here? Should I be forcing myself to fully embrace touch and accept it's here to stay -- on all devices -- or do you feel the same? Comments below please.

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