Windows 7 hardware: touch finally arrives

Synaptics' touch technology lies at the heart of new features in Windows 7

Before Windows 7's arrival, touchscreen support wasn't part of the Windows operating system itself. Instead, all-in-one PC vendors resorted to stopgaps ranging from elegant (HP's growing TouchSmart software suite) to kludgy (touchscreen apps from MSI and Asus).

But Microsoft's new OS supports touch gestures, and you can expect PC manufacturers to take advantage of the growing popularity of touchscreen interfaces, fueled by touchscreen smartphones such as the Apple iPhone, the T-Mobile mMyTouch 3G, and the Palm Pre. By the time Microsoft launches Windows 7, we should see a flurry of touchscreen announcements for all-in-one PCs and laptops (already Lenovo and Fujitsu have released laptop models that incorporate multitouch), with more to follow in 2010. Look for touchscreen systems to carry a Windows Touch branding for touchscreen PCs.

The evolution of touch on Windows 7 hasn't happened in a vacuum, however. Microsoft collaborated with touchpad maker Synaptics to standardize on common gestures between touchpad and screen.

"One of the things we've run into is that the experience on the screen should be the same on the touchpad," explains Ted Theocheung, general manager of PC and digital home ecosystem at Synaptics. "We talked with Microsoft to eliminate this Wild West of gestures."

Since 2008 Synaptics has supported gestures on touchpads with its Synaptics Gesture Suite software. Apple introduced gesture-based navigation on its notebooks in 2008 as well.

According to Theocheung, the gestures fundamentally used for navigation will consist of a limited, shared set. "It's all about helping with basic navigation-pinch for zoom in and out, a gesture to rotate objects and images, and scrolling gestures with two fingers to move the screen up and down, or left and right. These will be the three main gestures for Windows Touch, too."

Due out this fall, Synaptics' Gesture Suite 9.4 will introduce the gestures that support compatibility between the touchpad and the touchscreen, so you can use the same gestures on both. The final features of Synaptics' latest multitouch-capable Gesture Suite software were not available at press time, but you can expect Gesture Suite 9.4 to support a series of three- and four-finger gestures (Apple's newer laptops support four-finger gestures that relate to system commands).

For example, with Windows 7 will permit you to scroll and reverse-scroll by touch, so you can move two fingers down the screen to scroll downward, or move them up the screen to scroll upward. Software developers will be able to map gesture commands from the touchscreen to the touchpad. (Today, the rotation maps to a keystroke command.)

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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