2014 computer trends: A touchy subject

An employee uses a touch pad to enter information for a customer shopping for a refrigerator at a Sears store in Schaumburg, Illinois, near Chicago Sept 23, 2013. — Reuters pic
An employee uses a touch pad to enter information for a customer shopping for a refrigerator at a Sears store in Schaumburg, Illinois, near Chicago Sept 23, 2013. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Dec 1 — Expect more and more notebooks and desktops to start offering a touch screen as standard, and for desktops to look more like notebooks and for notebooks to look more like tablets.

Computers with touch screens may have got off to a shaky start, but by the end of 2013, 11 per cent of new notebooks on the market will have a touchscreen interface as a standard feature, and, by the end of 2014, NPD DisplaySearch believes that their market share will have doubled.

However, it will be hybrid, sliding computers and ultra-slim PCs rather than traditional notebook forms that will be driving the change. “A touch panel on a clamshell notebook seems less intuitive than it does on a tablet-like device, which is better suited to touch interactions,” said Richard Shim, senior analyst at NPD DisplaySearch.

But, as tablets continue to gain in popularity over the coming year — the latest Canalys report, published on November 26, forecasts that 50 per cent of all computers sold globally in 2014, representing 285,000,000 devices — will be tablets, PC makers are going to start aping tablets’ look and feel in order to compete. “As touch interfaces become increasingly common across all mobile devices, however, it is just a matter of time before the technology also becomes more prevalent in notebooks,” explains Shim.

Also driving the switch to touch screens will be the new definition of the term ultrabook. Intel owns the rights to the name and for a company to sell a product described as a latest generation ultrabook in 2014 it will have to offer a touchscreen interface.

But as well as restricting some forms of creativity, Intel is also opening up a wealth of design possibilities thanks to its new Haswell and Bay Trail processors.

Low on energy consumption yet high on performance, they are enabling manufacturers to build thin, tablet-shaped devices capable of running desktop software and to offer interesting new portable computer forms that move away from the traditional clamshell notebook design.

And it will be in this fast-developing convertible and slider category where the biggest growth is expected. Convertibles, such as Dell’s XPS 12, can be used like traditional notebooks and then folded or twisted so that the touch screen comes to the fore and the keyboard banished for tablet-like use. Sliders, like the Acer Aspire R7 and Sony VAIO Duo 11, are essentially variations on the theme but use a sliding hinge arrangement to enable users to switch between input modes.

At the other end of the scale, HP, Sony, Dell and Lenovo are experimenting with All-in-One desktop computers that double as huge family-sized tablets. Dubbed table-top PCs, they offer touch screens of up to 27 inches that respond to input from several users simultaneously.

Still very much niche products, the devices need to iron out one or two bugs but there’s a good chance that they could become mainstream, or at least established, over the next 12 months, particularly as the social aspect of computing in general and internet services in particular continues to grow in importance.

The only company that will not be building a touchscreen notebook in 2014 will be Apple.

All of its studies and tests have led it to draw the conclusion that offering a keyboard and a touch screen is counterintuitive and actually impedes, rather than increase productivity. Therefore people that want to work will use a computer and for everything else there is a tablet or a smartphone. — AFP-Relaxnews

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