Recent user testing shows that people want touch as part of their laptop computing experience. These research findings from Intel counter longstanding notions about touch-enabled displays on clamshell computers.
(In user experience testing conducted by Intel, researchers observed people tilting back the laptop screen and using their thumbs to touch both sides of the
screen, similar to how people hold a tablet or smartphone)
Touch on vertical screens, such as laptops, has been thought to result in so-called “gorilla arm,” a term engineers have coined to describe what happens when people use touch interfaces for lengthy periods. “Touchscreen on the display is ergonomically terrible for longer interactions,” Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said to Wired in 2010. In user testing conducted by Intel in Brazil, China, Italy and the United States, however, people embraced touch on laptop displays.
“People told me that touch on the laptop was intuitive, fun, immersive and freed them from the mouse and trackpad, especially when they discovered actions like flicking the screen to scroll up or down and navigate between tasks,” said Daria Loi, a user experience manager at Intel.
In testing Loi found that people spent 77 percent of the time touching the laptop screen while running through a variety of tasks such as surfing the Web, watching online video, viewing and editing photos and adjusting the laptop’s setting. “Ninety percent found touch on a laptop screen intuitive,” she said.
For tests with consumers, Loi used an off-the-shelf touchscreen laptop running a simulated Windows 8 Metro-style operating system and applications such as PowerPoint. Although the prototype was not fully optimized with a touch operating system, many users said the touch experience transformed the notebook from a work to a play device.
“One person even compared the addition of touch as like having a laptop with an extra gear,” she said.
Loi says that the study results debunked another industry concern. “Many thought that hinges holding screens in place wouldn’t withstand the forcible pokes and pinches for very long,” she said. “But we saw people very gently touching, even caressing the screen.”
In her testing, she observed people tilting back the laptop screen and using their thumbs to touch both sides of the screen, similar to how people hold a tablet or smartphone. She also noticed a range of additional informal postures, such as resting one elbow on the table or armrest while touching the screen with the other hand or fluidly switching between right and left hand to navigate via touch.
Loi said that participants strongly expressed that they did not want the keyboard to go away. “Many gave practical or emotional reasons for liking the physical keyboard, such as the way it feels or sounds when pressing down on the different keys. Most participants did not like interacting with the virtual keyboard, even when touch was their favorite input modality.”