As many no doubt know by now, we've released a Developer Preview of Windows 8. This is a build of the software designed for developers to begin developing apps using the new capabilities of Windows 8 and our new tools. The build is substantially complete across subsystems but is not a beta by any measures that we use to define a beta. The rich diversity and creativity you find within the ecosystem of hardware/software/peripherals for Windows can lead to a situation where different parts of an overall experience are available at different times. Windows 8 is in a developer preview state now, but there is not yet a broad set of PC hardware upon which to experience some of the new, hardware-specific, aspects of Windows 8. Of course Windows 8 is designed from the ground up to be an amazing upgrade (or clean install) for any PC that runs Windows 7. But we know many folks are anxious to try out some of the new scenarios and form factors that will also make Windows 8 shine.

There are no Windows 8 PCs yet, but there are PCs we have been using in our labs and that our team has been using to test the new capabilities of Windows 8. We work closely with PC makers to test early systems and will continue to do so. But we also wanted to let you know about the systems we have been working with that have touch capabilities and allow you to experience these new aspects of Windows 8. This is not an exhaustive list, and it is definitely not a recommended, certified or "logo" list. It is merely a list of machines we have experience with, and so we want to share that experience with you. We think if you're looking to experience some of the latest scenarios and aspects of Windows 8 before there are purpose-built Windows 8 machines, this is a good start.

So, this post focuses on the touch interface aspects of PCs designed for Windows 7, which also work with Windows 8. Grant George, corporate vice president for all of Windows test, and Jeff Piira, a test manager on our HIP team, authored this post together.

--Steven

Over many years in the PC ecosystem, we have seen the machine <--> human interface evolve many times. The first era was the command-line interface, where we only needed the keyboard to be able to type out commands on a black screen. The next era was the graphical user interface, where we enabled support for a mouse, in addition to a keyboard. The mouse made it easier for users to interact with “windows,” icons, menus, and pointers. Recently we have seen more and more emphasis on a natural user interface, where users interact not just with a keyboard or mouse, but also with touch. The way people interact with technology has evolved, such that touch interfaces are now more common than ever, and they can be found today across a myriad of devices ranging from 3-inch mobile phones to book readers, notebooks, large desktop displays, point of sale devices, kiosks and more. Touch is everywhere and it’s here to stay.

In Windows 8, we are taking the next step in adopting touch as a truly first-class input mechanism by evolving not only our UI, but many other platform elements as well. The goal of this blog post is not to introduce the overall story of touch for Windows 8 (that will come later), but to tell the story of hardware, how it is evolving, and what we think Windows 8 will bring to the ecosystem of touch.

Every touch interface has its own challenges to develop and perfect. However, to the end user, what matters most is the smooth, responsive, and natural experience of interacting with a device using touch. This sensation of performance is something we have prioritized heavily in Windows 8.

Performance of touch is not an easy thing to quantify, and there are many elements to consider. The speed at which the software input stack responds to the hardware is a primary factor. As much as we can make advances in optimizing the software, hardware pays a huge role in the “feel” of an immersive touch experience. For Windows 8, one of our approaches is to partner deeply with industry leaders on this aspect of touch, something which has paid off tremendously.

Another aspect of change in Windows 8 has been how we have approached the touch experience. Early on we decided to concentrate on ensuring the key user experiences are not only designed, but are fully optimized for touch. While this decision may seem trivial, it fundamentally changed how we evaluate Windows 8 on existing hardware and how we communicate with hardware partners. All of our requirements and tests are built off the user experiences rather than specific hardware centric capabilities. This helps to ensure that there is no gap between what the hardware can do and what the software expects.

So how do we define a good touch experience in Windows 8?

  • Panning and touch response are precise and smooth (we call this “stick to your finger” panning).
  • Touch visualization is direct and immediate.
  • Targeting UI with your fingers is seamless and confident.
  • Typing on the screen is quick, efficient and responsive.
  • Touch application experiences are consistent. Touching these applications will work the same regardless of the device they are run on.

Touch hardware coverage

As the market for touch-enabled Windows PCs is broad, we focused our efforts on existing in-market devices to guide our initial development. Here are some of the newer Windows 7 systems that we use most commonly:

  • HP Elitebook 2740p and 2760p convertible
  • ASUS EP121 tablet
  • Dell Inspiron Duo convertible
  • Lenovo x201, x220t convertible
  • 3M M2256PW 22” display

We also test Windows 8 on a broader set of in-market systems. Touch quality is not only about the touchscreen and its relationship to the user. When we’re testing complete systems, things like bezel design, graphics, CPU and cover glass can impact the Windows 8 touch experience as well. We are committed to supporting the hardware that is running with Windows 7 today and working hard to bring a good experience to our customers who upgrade. As we continue through our development cycle on Windows 8, we will update this blog and call out how progress is coming with existing in-market systems.

Image of the Windows test labs with many different types of laptops, tablets, and desktop machines

Below is a list of the devices we currently have in our test labs.

3M M2256PW

Dell ST2220Tc

HP TouchSmart_IQ526t

Acer Aspire 1420p (PDC) 

Dell Studio 1747

Lenovo C320

Acer Aspire 1825PT

Dell Studio One

Lenovo S10-3T

Acer Aspire 5738PG

Dell SX2210T

Lenovo ThinkPad T410S

Acer Aspire Z5610

Elo 1522L

Lenovo ThinkPad X201T

Acer Iconia

EXOPC

Lenovo ThinkPad X220T

Acer T230H

Fujitsu Lifebook T4310

Lenovo ThinkPad_X60

Acer W500

HP Compaq L2105TM

NEC MultiSync LCD175M

ASUS EP 121

HP EliteBook 2740P

Planar PX2230MW

ASUS TCA70

HP Mini 5102

Samsung Series 7 XE700T1A 

Dell Inspiron 2305

HP Pavilion_tx2000

Sony V J series

Dell Inspiron Duo

HP Pavillion DV3T-2000 

Sony V L series

Dell Inspiron One 2305

HP Tablet 500

Sony VPCL113FX/B

Dell Latitude E6420

HP TouchSmart 610

Sony VPCL-218FW

Dell Latitude XT

HP TouchSmart IQ500

Toshiba Portege_M700

Dell ST2220T

HP TouchSmart TX2Z

Toshiba Sattellite Har/Kar

Touch tests

Here are a couple of examples of tests that we run to see how hardware and software works together. The first test covers new Windows 8 features  that you access by swiping a finger in from the edges of the screen, like Search, Share, and Settings. (We will talk more about these features in future posts.)

Windows 8 Start screen with Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings charms shown along the right edge of the screen

To get the best experience when swiping in from the edge, touch must be responsive across the entire active screen starting at pixel 1 on each side, so we’ve developed tools to ensure that swipes are always properly detected at the edges of the screen.

To ensure a smooth panning experience, we have requirements for the latency of hardware response and panning with touch. We use a high-speed camera to measure input lag or delay between when a user touches the screen and when that action is reflected on the display. The less lag or separation between the user’s finger and the object being dragged the better!

Building new touch hardware for Windows 8

Keeping the user experience at the top of the requirements, Windows 8 will kick off a new generation of computing devices, and it is only natural that touchscreen technologies will evolve with it. Our goal on the Windows team is to work in lock step with external hardware partners in the development of new hardware that will more fully support Windows 8 requirements, and ultimately provide the smooth, responsive, and natural touch experience that Windows users expect. Our continuing work with our touch hardware partners, suppliers, IHV’s (independent hardware vendors), and PC manufacturers will help us together deliver an immersive and intuitive touch experience in Windows 8.

--Grant and Jeff