Windows 8 is still in heavy development, and still has a long way to go before it ends up on our desktops, laptops, and tablets. One of the major concerns is how Windows 8 is going to deal with a traditional keyboard and mouse/trackpad combination - especially on non-tablet computers where touch input is pretty much not an option. While Microsoft assures us it's all good, Synaptics decided to see what it, as trackpad maker, can do.
Windows 8's interface depends on a number of gestures and flicks - things like swiping in from the sides to switch between windows, to open the menu-thingamabob, and so on. When I tested all this with my mouse for a little while (Windows 8 breaks down into a blue screen on my machine a few minutes after boot), it all seemed a bit arbitrary, but then again, if you stop and think about our current desktop interface, it's filled to the brim with arbitrary nonsense. Learning curve is to be expected with a new interface.
Synaptics, however, decided to approach this issue from a different angle. Instead of having users rely on mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts mapped to the new touch gestures, Synaptics mapped the surface of the touchpad to the actual screen. This seems strange, but it means that, for instance, the flick from the right edge of the screen to bring up the menu can now be done by flicking from the right edge of the touchpad.
This actually seems like a pretty decent compromise for laptop users. Having to raise your arms to a vertical screen is entirely pointless, but I'm not so sure about the gestures-mapped-to-mouse/keyboard either. The raised edge of the touchpad is an ideal tactile target for these edge-flicking gestures, and while you can only judge these things by looking at them, I might actually prefer this solution (on laptops) over a regular touchpad.
"The time for PC OEMs to design for Windows 8 with touch has arrived. Synaptics is excited to deliver on the promise of advanced touchscreen and innovative TouchPad technology, which will play an important role in how users interact with their Windows 8 PCs and tablets," said Mark Vena, senior vice president and general manager at Synaptics, "We're especially enthusiastic about new product concepts like Intel's thin and light Ultrabook which will take special advantage of Synaptics' technology."
I wonder just how much proprietary software magic is going on there, since I don't think it will require very special hardware - i.e., this ought to work on existing touchpads too, right? Let's hope Linux and other operating systems can benefit from this stuff as well.