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The reality of Microsoft and “touch”

There are a number of new products that indicate to me that companies do not understand "touch" and what it is good, or indeed no good for. Microsoft, after being caught flat-footed in the phone and tablet market, is the worst offender. But a deeper analysis may indicate that this is not the case at all. Let me explain.

I’ve just been reading all about how Office 2013 is going to be touch-oriented. You have to wonder what's going on at Redmond with some of these concepts. Who needs a touch version of Office?

First of all, let's take an honest look at modern touch computing, which is completely different from traditional stylus computing. Microsoft was all-in with stylus computing and is just now trying to adjust to the modern “ham-fist” touch computing, which is good for very little except ease-of-use.

Apparently, Microsoft does not understand the difference. Or does it?

When the first iPhone appeared, it fixed a couple of problems with touchscreens. The main problem was using the stylus, which led to the problem of losing the stylus. The stylus had to go, and it turned out to be unnecessary for the main purposes of the modern touchscreen, including dialling the phone, changing pages, and viewing photos.

The new touch system introduced two flaws: The horrid touchscreen typing and the lack of touch accuracy for selection. This made the devices good for viewing content, but not much else unless you were a maniac. The same generality holds true for both the modern smartphone and the tablet.

Thus, it seems like a waste to run Photoshop or Microsoft Office on an iPad. I mean, you can do it, but why would you? It's like using a rock to hammer a nail when you have an actual hammer in your tool belt.

Some users have adapted keyboards to tablets to prove they can work and I suppose they do, but, in reality, it is a kludge.

So here comes Microsoft, oblivious to all of it. Oblivious to the limitations of the tablets, oblivious to what users really want, just oblivious full-stop. More interesting to me is the fact that Microsoft insists on combining tablet usability and desktop usability in the same package, a process it began with the Windows 8 Metro interface. So instead of Office 2013 for the tablet PC, you get Office 2013 for both the tablet and the desktop.

I’ve written about my objections to Windows 8 in the past, and I won’t go into that again here, because I might be misunderstanding the whole point of these combo products. On the surface, Microsoft claims that it wants to have a consistent look and feel across platforms, hence these psycho products.

I believe the company's explanation for implementing these cross platform UIs, even though it would be more practical to optimise for each platform and actually have different UIs for tablets. Users can deal with that as long as the data is free to move from place to place with little effort.

Here is what Microsoft is really doing, or at least, this is my best guess…

The company is scared to death that it would be subject to further ridicule if it brought out Office for tablets and sold zero copies. This cannot happen if it is a combo product, which would easily cover up any market failures. Same with Windows 8 Metro. If only five tablets are sold, it matters not to the Microsoft pride because Windows 8 is going onto every new PC. The total is going to be huge. There will be no Windows 8 for tablets so that nobody has to report that it only sold five copies.

If the tablet takes off, which is unlikely at this point, then Microsoft can decide to optimise an OS for it. It's a purely defensive marketing strategy. When you boil it down, it's actually Microsoft giving a vote of no confidence to its own products.

I guess there are realists at the company after all.