Several years ago I was in a Spanish (*) department store's computer department admiring a large HP All-In-One with a touch screen. It was probably running Vista with some Microsoft touch extensions - touch extensions that were at an early stage - and while it was an interesting idea I didn't run off when I got home to my local computer store in Finland and order one. Not that many people did. At the time it was an odd concept that was ahead of its time.
[(*) Spanish is only relevant because I don't go to the computer sections of department stores unless I am on holiday and need to kill time until my wife has finished shopping. ]
Move on to 2013 and we see that ever since the iPad and iPhone were brought out by Apple, people *are* very much used to using touch screens - something which no doubt encouraged Microsoft to dig out some of their old touch technology and improve it for the next Windows Operating System that saw the light of day as Windows 8 and which now as Windows 8.1 is much improved.
So not only do we now have touch screens on phones and tablets but we are also seeing an increasing number of portables (and even again All-In-Ones) with touch screens. The main question therefore becomes "If I am buying a new PC, should I (implicitly "pay a premium for") buy one with touch or not. I can't answer this question for anyone else than myself but perhaps my own thoughts will help others make up their own minds about what is best for them.
Today I have a mix of touch and non-touch (and partly touch) devices. It's perhaps important to note that when buying none of them did I think touch or not touch. Here they are in order of size.
There's a iPod Classic (160GB) bought in 2013 to replace an older iPod Classic with 80GB because I needed more space. Not Touch.
There's a ca 4 inch Archos device used mainly nowadays in its dock to record from TV to files in .mp4 format. Partly Touch (but touch is irrelevant for what I use it for).
A Windows 8 phone (Nokia Lumia). Touch. [I finally spotted that I had written "Windows 9"]
There's a 7 inch Nexus 7 tablet. Touch (but rarely used as all my content is on my iPad so used only for short trips for which nowadays the Lumia is usually enough)
There's a 10 inch iPad Air (128GB) which replaced a iPad2 (16GB) again because of lack of space. Touch.
A 13-inch Windows 7 light portable. Bought just when Windows 7 came out as a (thus reduced) Vista device because it had both an SSD drive (then rare) and a sim card slot. The screen on this has already broken once and been replaced, if it happens again the portable will be replaced. Not touch.
(A 15.6 portable used only for testing Windows 8. Old, no longer fast and very heavy. The first to go.)
A 17 inch "portable" (also Windows 7 Ultimate) with two upgradeable disks; HD screen and i7 processor bought in 2012. Used only at home. Not touch.
In other words touch on tablets and some smaller devices; no touch on the portables.
Now the future.
For a couple of years - in fact ever since I started regretting having the screen on the 13 inch repaired - I've thought that I would next get a Mac portable. The idea used to be an 11 inch Mac Air but now that I almost always carry a 10 inch iPad with me when going on a trip, that seems a bit pointless so the sweet spot is nowadays a 13.3 inch MacBook Pro.
These don't of course have touch screens as Apple make a clear distinction between their tablets/phones which are touch devices and their other computers which aren't.
Are they likely to bring out touch in their portable OS in the 3 year time span of a MacBook Pro? I don't know but they presumably could as a) they have touch knowledge through iOS and b) OSx seems to be running out of steam and could do with a major re-write so what better than to include touch in it!?
So that uncertainty plus the always annoying very short official guarantee time for MacBooks that are not cheap by any means is one reason for maybe thinking again about buying a MacBook at the moment.
The next choice is therefore a Windows 8.1 machine. This is something that six months ago I would have discarded outright and gone instead for a non-touch-supported Windows 7 device, but Windows 8.1 has changed everything and suddenly Windows 8(.1) devices are a valid option again.
Here though there is the choice between touch and no-touch for the Windows 8.1. device (if it's a standard laptop) and even the additional choice of which type of Windows 8.1. - laptop; hybrid or tablet (not to mention desktop).
If a laptop my decision is clear. Get a model with a touch screen provided the additional cost for an otherwise equivalent model from the same manufacturer isn't excessive. Excessive is in my book anything over a 100 Euros difference - as I wrote in an earlier blog item one Samsung model has a touch additional cost of 50 Euros but one similarly-priced Sony model has a touch additional cost of 200 Euros. [Later addition: The above paragraph might be read incorrectly. What I meant is buy a touch model but restrict your choices to those models for which the manufacturer isn't demanding too high a premium for touch.]
Laptops cost by-and-large far less than hybrids so the main question is if using touch on a screen that is facing you across a laptop keyboard will ever become natural. I don't know and I suspect that will vary both with the size of laptop (on the 17inch I'm typing this on - without touch - the screen is too far away for comfort) and with the usage of the laptop. If your usage is say 80% traditional applications and 20% ex-"Metro" apps you probably have a reasonable chance of never getting used to it. If the reverse then certainly touch ought quickly to become natural.
With hybrids you are in effect paying what could be a very high (several hundred dollars/Euros for the same configuration over the price of a standard laptop) premium for the ability to either use a tablet or a standard laptop for the same operating system. In other words if you flattened the device so that you had in effect a fat tablet, you used it only as if it were a tablet. Open it as a laptop and you used it only as a laptop.
[Aside: this is why I could never understand why there were the complaints about the Asus TaiChi having only one touch screen as the second non-touch screen was the screen used in laptop mode.]
My own thoughts are that a hybrid is the safest choice as it covers all the bases BUT that the cost premium is today so high that for anyone that already has a tablet, it might well be best simply to carry both the tablet and the (touch) normal laptop rather than to pay all that extra for an in effect second tablet. Even if you don't already have a good tablet, that hybrid price premium may well mean that you could buy a good tablet and a good touch laptop for a price close to that of the equivalent hybrid.
Long story but a short set of conclusions.
1. This time touch has come to stay.
2. There is a risk that within a 3-5 year period Apple will come out with a touch screen version of OSx (which might then no longer be called OSx). This risk reduces the undoubted hardware attractions of buying Mac portables today.
3. If buying a Windows 8.1 laptop, always buy a touch version but look for models where the premium for touch isn't exorbitant.
4. If considering a hybrid model, compare it on price with a touch laptop from the same manufacturer that has the same (processor; memory; disk; (graphics card)). A price difference of more than (say) 200 dollars/euros should send up warning bells,
P.S. I noticed that I didn't make any comments about buying a pure tablet in order to get Windows 8.1 so here they are. This is to my mind only valid for people without an existing tablet. For them the latest (and only) Nokia tablet would be appealing if only they hadn' made the major blunder (to my mind) of making it a Windows 8.1 (= formerly known as RT) and not a Windows 8.1 Pro device. With Windows 8.1. Pro on it you would have all major apps that are available on other tablets PLUS a mass of applications that run under Windows desktop. In other words additional value over iPads and Android tablets. By restricting it to RT (cough) they have automatically (because of the lower number of apps + nothing to outweigh that) made it inferior to other well-made tablets.
The conclusion is therefore that a Windows 8.1 device in tablet form will only be a possible choice if the full tablet+desktop operating system is provided. Today it isn't so laptops or hybrids it is.