Microsoft Reveals Information About Touch Hardware and Windows 8

One of Microsoft focuses in Windows 8 is the operating system’s touch capabilities. A new blog post over at the official Building Windows 8 blog highlights some of the challenges that Microsoft is facing, and solutions the company came up with to overcome hardware limitations.

Microsoft basically divides touch hardware into two groups. First hardware that is built for Windows 8, and then touch hardware that has been available before, and hardware that is not meeting the quality standards of the new operating system.

While Windows 8 will run on today’s hardware just fine, Microsoft notes that the user experience may differ due to hardware limitations. A set of default touch interactions have been created that third party app developers can use in their applications as well.

Windows 8 Touch Interactions

windows 8 touch interactions

You will notice that all eight touch interactions require no more than two fingers. This ensures compatibility with past and future touch based devices, and a more comfortable user experience. Hardware designed for Windows 8 on the other hand is required to support a minimum of five fingers.

This is why Windows 8 PCs require digitizers that support a minimum of 5 fingers. The reason we went in this direction is a response to developer feedback. Developers do not want their creativity to be limited, and in particular, they let us know that they want to be free to use whichever multi-finger gestures or controls are useful. They do not want requirements for a minimum number of fingers that may not make sense for their application. As such, we focused on a minimum of 5 fingers to enable scenarios like whole hand interactions (all 5 fingers) or multi-finger/multi-hand scenarios. This will address the feedback, and unlocks opportunities for developers to push the envelope with multi-touch applications.

Microsoft is designing the Windows 8 operating system to be more forgiving when it is running on PCs designed for Windows 7. This is done to improve the overall user experience.

  • Making gestures like press and hold and pinch to zoom more forgiving – On some touch screens, the information reported from the screen is not consistent. We call this “jitter.”., When “jitter” happens, it’s hard for the system to know if the finger is actually moving or stationary. In some instances, a simple gesture like “press and hold” becomes extremely hard to calculate.
  • Determining user intent for sloppy or imprecise touches – Although larger UI elements help improve touch targeting, we don’t have that luxury within the Windows desktop, especially with existing desktop applications. For this, we developed new ways to remap touch targets using the geometry of the finger, such that it becomes easier to invoke any UI that is within the radius of your finger contact.

Video showing some of the inconsistencies

Topics discussed in the video include:

  • Individual taps do not always work
  • Swipe to select is inconsistent on hardware that does not detect small touch deltas fast enough
  • Swipe and slide can be misinterpreted as a tap
  • Swipe from edge does not always work, especially with faster swiping

Microsoft did a lot of testing on Windows 7 hardware, and according to the blog post, what they found “was encouraging” but also varying a lot.

What we found was encouraging: the vast majority of Windows 7 touchscreens can be used with Windows 8. This means that touch drivers continue to load, and you can perform the basic touch interactions in Windows 8 with a reasonable degree of success. But, as described in the previous section, we did see significant variability in how touch interactions were interpreted across different Windows 7 touchscreens.


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