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Windows 8 Touchscreen Displays Affordable, Widely Available

In early 2012, I wrote a two-part series of blog posts on “Buying a Touchscreen for Windows 8,” (Episode 1, Episode 2) as I worked through finding a suitable touchscreen for a Windows 8 test machine in connection with a book on Windows 8 I was researching at that time. While plenty of affordable touchscreens were available at the time, only a very few — and more costly — touchscreens actually complied with the Windows 8 touch requirements for such devices. I determined that somebody insistent on compliance with those requirements would have to spend over $1,000 to meet them, most likely in the form of a very nice 3M M181866PW Multi-Touch Display, if not something bigger. Today, that monitor still costs over $1,100, while bigger models cost even more (3M’s offerings go all the way up to 32″ for a whopping $4,500 or thereabouts).

Looks nice, but where is the hand vis-a-vis the keyboard right now?

Looks nice, but where is the hand vis-a-vis the keyboard right now?

But first, ask yourself this: “Do I REALLY need touch?”
I raise this important question because I’ve now had over one year of day-in, day-out experience working with Windows 8 on desktop, notebook, and tablet PCs. Because I work primarily on the Windows 8 desktop (not running Windows Store/Modern UI apps, in other words, and using a conventional keyboard and mouse) I’ve observed that while touch is nice to have, it’s not absolutely essential unless I’m working on a tablet device or a smartphone, where touch is the ONLY user interface available. Here’s why: when you work mostly on the keyboard and with a mouse, you have to move your hand some distance away from its usual home location to access a touch display. This is disruptive to work flow (my work flow, at least) because it take time to make those moves, and then to get re-set to work the keyboard when returning from the display, or vice-versa. And here’s another thing to consider: you can spend a lot less ($60-80, in most cases) to purchase a touch mouse (both Microsoft and Logitech have nice models) or trackpad instead of a touch display, without disrupting workflow, and still get the benefit of the gestures that touch permits to drive the Win8 interface.

If you still want a touch display or a notebook with a touch screen, you’ll be pleased to learn that…
Prices have fallen dramatically, and the number of purchase options have increased likewise, for touchscreen displays that comply with Windows 8 Touch requirements (now under the umbrella of the Microsoft Hardware Certification program, as the former Windows Logo program has been renamed). With just a little trolling online, I found recent articles from ComputerWorld, PC World, and PC Advisor that provide buying advice and product reviews on offerings from numerous well-known vendors, including Acer, Dell, LG, and Viewsonic, among others, and a carefully-crafted Google Shopping search turns up more company names, including Planar, ELO, TouchSystems, HP, NEC, Samsung, and others.

The good news here — as the afore-cited review articles from PC World and ComputerWorld attest — is that you can find any number of Windows 8 hardware certified touchscreen monitors in a size range from 21 to 23″ for $700 or less. Hooking up these monitors does mean giving up a USB port (for the human interface device, or HID, communication that touch itself requires) in addition to a VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort link for the video (and audio where applicable), but that’s a modest additional resource requirement that these devices demand. Conventional wisdom remains that it costs about $100-200 more to add touch to a monitor of a given size (bigger monitors require larger touch surfaces, so the cost differential tends to rise in tandem with display size), so that’s the cost increment for replacing an existing monitor (or for adding a touchscreen as an additional monitor, as many users choose to do instead).

So now that there’s no question that you can find a reasonably priced touchscreen for Windows 8 use (and double ditto for Windows 8 laptops or ultrabooks), the real question still remains: Do you really want to go the touchscreen route, or try a touch-friendly mouse or trackpad instead? My suggestion: start with the mouse or trackpad and see if you can live with it (I do myself, every day). Only if you can’t should you spring for the added expense (and desktop real estate) of a Windows 8 hardware certified touch monitor.

[Note added 4/5/2013: No sooner had I posted this blog, than I found a fantastic article over at Ars Technica on the general subject of touch displays: it’s entitled “From touch displays to the Surface: A brief history of touchscreen technology” and it’s a great read on the history, present, and future of touch displays and their many and increasing applications.]

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Touch is great and once you have it, you don't want to go back to the old point and mouse click. But you're right in making sure you ask yourself if you really need touch with your everyday business applications. Providing touch screens to end users in an enterprise environment can still be quite an investment when one starts to think of outfitting hundreds of end users in a company.