Browser touch support: Microsoft's magic tablet ingredient

Browser touch support: Microsoft's magic tablet ingredient

Summary: The use of touch across websites is improving as standards fall into place, and Microsoft is keen to point out the touch capabilities of its browser and operating system.

TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft

Lost in the noise around the IE 10 launch for Windows 7 were some studies underlining the importance of touch support in Microsoft's browsers. With its own Surface tablets, and Windows 8 taking advantage of the Trident rendering engine, it's little wonder that Microsoft wants to emphasise the significant touch capabilities of its browser.

Microsoft's latest IE 10 demo site shows off its touch technologies. (Image: Screenshot by Simon Bisson)

One key technological foundation, pointer events, is designed to deal with an issue that faces web developers attempting to produce responsive sites that work across phones, tablets, and PCs: how to work with the multitude of different ways users may interact with a page. Adding code to support touch and mouse events can be complex, and often leads to sites that depend on experimental features — and that may well depend on people using specific hardware. Pointer events are designed to abstract away from the input technology in use.

Most browsers still treat touch and pen events as mouse input, which means that key effects, like hover and mouse over, are lost when a user is working with touch — something that can be a problem when such events are used to deliver user interactions, like tooltips or delivering JavaScript events to page code. The abstraction of pointer events builds on the existing mouse model, making them easy to add to existing sites.

Pointer events has been submitted to the W3C and is currently a Last Call Working Draft (the final step before becoming a W3C Recommendation). As well as supporting it in IE, Microsoft has submitted code for pointer events to WebKit, and it's currently available in an experimental build of Chromium.

Contributing a touch specification to the W3C, and even writing a prototype version for the open-source WebKit rendering engine, is all about getting websites to work better for touch in IE 10. Naturally, Microsoft is keen to point to research it has commissioned to show where IE 10 beats browsing on iPad and Android tablets.

Principled Technologies timed common tasks like opening websites, saving them on the Start screen and searching the web while you have other apps open on an iPad, a Nexus 7, and a Samsung Series 7 Slate running Windows 8. IE 10 came out faster in 7 out of 10 tests; in some cases, it was 60 percent faster than iOS or Android.

That might explain the 85 percent of iPad users in Mozaic Group's tests who said that they would consider switching to a Windows 8 tablet after a couple hours of using one. Out of 40 participants, 93 percent said IE 10 was faster and more powerful, while 88 percent said that it was easier to use than Safari on iPad. In a somewhat larger survey by Penn Research, 70 percent of iPad users said that they would switch to a tablet with a better browser; Microsoft is obviously hoping that will be a Windows 8 tablet, and the resulting new ad campaign is presumably to get their attention.

Touch can be used with other HTML5 technologies to give you a very different web experience. (Image: Screenshot by Simon Bisson)

That advertising love for IE 10 on Windows 8 is set to coincide with the Windows 7 browser launch, courtesy of Seattle musician Blake Lewis; you can remix his Your Touch track at And it's no coincidence the track and the site are all about touch — something Microsoft is keen to emphasise as a strength in IE 10, whether on desktop, phone, or tablet.

Topics: Browser, Microsoft

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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  • Reality beats hype

    My experience with Surface RT makes working with Android very difficult. RT would make for a perfect 7" or so, could be smaller or slightly bigger, reader but looses out to the Pro. I await for Pro on a 4th gen processor but in the interim nothing compares to the RT.
  • This looks like a development that the Apple and Google fanbois wont be

    happy about.

    Google with its Chromebook will especially not comfortable with an IE10 that works a lot better than Chrome browser. Imagine is MS decided to develop an ultrabook to compete with the Chromebook, but with the much better IE10 inside, and a subset of Windows 8 inside. Checkmate!
  • Benefits of competition

    I think this shows the benefits of competition in the web browser market, even if most browsers are essentially parts of other products (Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems, and Google’s advertising platform), rather than products themselves. A danger, however, is that firms with touch app ecosystems that might be threatened by touch-enabled websites may try to stall or block the standardisation of touch APIs. It’s important to ensure that standards are used properly, i.e. to make innovation available in all, and not abused to prevent competition.