MacBook Air and Pro: No touch screen required (unlike Windows 8)

MacBook Air and Pro: No touch screen required (unlike Windows 8)

Summary: A common complaint about the new MacBook Air is the lack of a touch screen. Fact is, multi-touch support on the trackpad is better than the touch screen operation in Windows 8.

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TOPICS: Laptops, Apple, Mobility
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MBA touch
Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The MacBook Air recently released is a laptop that sets the bar for the genre. Even with all that Apple has accomplished with the new laptop, a common complaint is the lack of a touch screen. The support for touch screens in Windows 8 is creating an expectation that laptops need to have them. The fact is that OS X handles multi-touch on a trackpad better than Windows 8 does on a touch screen.

I can already hear the cries of discontent over my statement that OS X handles touch operation better than Windows 8. There are no doubt Windows 8 users that find touch operation to be quite nice on touch screen laptops. While I agree that it is adequate on Windows 8, I firmly believe that touch operation on MacBooks is better.

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Apple has perfected the use of touch gestures on the big trackpads found on all current MacBooks. After only a short period of learning the gestures, OS X is wonderful to control with them. This operation, coupled with the intelligent use running apps in the full-screen mode, makes the MacBook (Air or Pro) simple, intuitive, and delightful to use.

Moving from one full-screen app to another is as simple as swiping left or right with three fingsers. That's how I have my Macs configured, anyway, as the number of fingers can be set to however many feels right for each user. 

OS X Mission Control
Mission Control -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

If too many apps are open and swiping doesn't get to the desired app quickly, simply swipe up on the trackpad with three fingers to get to Mission Control. This presents all running apps and the dashboard, allowing instant teleportation to the desired app by tapping it. It's possible to rearrange the order of the apps by dragging one to the desired position on the Mission Control screen. I do this to put my two apps accessed most often side-by-side so the left/right swipe gesture mentioned above swoops back and forth.

Launchpad
Launchpad -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

When I need to run an app, the dock at the bottom of the main screen is convenient. Even easier, pinching on the trackpad with the thumb and three fingers fires up the Launchpad. This shows all installed apps on pages that can be cycled by swiping left and right. It's similar to the home screens on the iPad except all apps are presented alphabetically. Reversing the pinch gesture collapses the Launchpad, as does tapping on an app to run it.

What makes the Mission Control and Launchpad more efficient than similar operations on Windows 8 is that the Mac utilities can be accessed from any screen. There's no need to go back to the main screen (or Start screen on Windows 8), you can get anywhere with an intuitive gesture on the trackpad from any screen or app.

Touch operation in the Safari browser on the Mac is great. The pinch/zoom gesture works in Safari just like it works on the iPad, and there's a good reason that has become the standard. It is particularly handy on the 11-inch MacBook Air, zooming in as needed and back out again.

The two-finger left/right swiping in Safari is a great way to move back-and-forth among web pages. This is complete with a graphical animation of the next/last web page moving into view. That's not just fluff, it makes it possible to see at a glance if the upcoming page is the one you want.

The touch gestures discussed in this article are only the ones I use most, there are others that contribute to the utility of touch operation on the Mac. The operation is not only intuitive, simple, and practical, it quickly becomes natural. What may be important to some Mac users, virtually all of the touch gestures are configurable by the user to make them feel the most natural. Equally important is how most of them are optional for those who don't want touch control.

I like using my HP Envy x2 with both a touch screen and good trackpad. Microsoft has done a decent job making its latest OS work with both types of controls. But there are some tasks that are more natural to execute using the touch screen, and others the trackpad. It's a mixed bag using touch on Windows 8.

I use both Windows 8 and OS X on the Mac, and the latter is clearly superior to me. Touch operation on Windows 8, both the touch screen and trackpad, feels like Microsoft tried too hard to make it work on all device types. While it works, it never feels natural nor works as well as touch control on the Mac.

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Mobility

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129 comments
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  • Touch screens

    Hi James,

    Of course we are complaining. Best hardware for Windows8+Office2013 is Apple computers (no joke). Terrible situation for Microsoft but works great for users.

    Isaac
    iscogd
    • No joke indeed

      Windows 8 works better with touch. Apple computers do not support touch. Conclusion: Your statement ignores fact.

      You probably refer to the Soluto click bait advertisement. In case you do, they claimed that machines running OS X half the time have less crashes in Windows per week. From that they concluded that Macs are the better Windows machines, because such a statement would bring more people to visit their site.
      Sacr
      • Touch vs touchscreen

        You're conflating touch screens with touch. In fact, the multitouch support Apple builds into their trackpads is, for most people (including James and myself) a better touch experience on a laptop than a touchscreen on a laptop.

        I have a laptop with touchscreen - the Chromebook Pixel - and I rarely use it. The fact that it has a high-quality, multitouch enabled trackpad is far more important, and has a greater positive effect on my productivity, than the touchscreen.
        Ian.Betteridge
        • Congratulation to ...

          James for helping Apple to become the laggard of merging technologies. For those who are in the same bout as James, should just think about the what they are missing: an operating system that behaves the same way on all the devices its is installed.

          Regardless of the mountains of negative reporting besieging Windows 8, this operating system is ahead in realising and utilising the art of merging technologies.

          James, keep helping Apple digging the hole in which they are so deep.
          Wonder.man
          • Read the article

            And you will find I use (and like using) my HP Envy x2 with Windows 8. I use both OSes heavily and thus my article.
            JamesKendrick
          • You like using your Envy?

            Then why are you constantly complaining about it, and Windows 8, on Twitter?

            I do have to ask you James why you continue to purchase Windows 8 products when it is clear that, if we give you the benefit of the doubt and believe that you don't HATE Windows 8, you at least believe Windows 8 to be inferior to osx and ios in every single way?

            Stop buying Microsoft products if apple products are better. If apple products AREN'T better in every single way, why is it we never, even once, hear from you how Microsoft products are better? Your words and your purchasing habits don't line up. No sane person continues to buy products they believe are inferior yet I can't think of a single time you've ever come out and said "MS products X does this task better than apple product Y."

            Is some company preventing you from writing anything good about Microsoft? If not, please explain why you continue to buy products you believe are inferior in every single way.
            toddbottom3
          • reading comprehension not your forte?

            James has written lovingly and at length about his HP Envy. But you appear to be among those partisans who simply can't abide that a person can enjoy multiple computers with multiple OS's and find ways to both praise and critique them. It's all or nothing with you guys. You're either with me or against me. No room for middle ground.
            dsf3g
          • Then allow James to refresh our memories

            In what way is his Envy better than his ipad or mba? It should be easy for James if what you wrote is true.

            We know the touch screen is worse than the mba's trackpad.

            He hates everything about Windows 8.

            It isn't as portable as his ipad mini.

            It doesn't have the resolution of the rmbp.

            But I've clearly got either a poor memory or poor reading comprehension. James, the challenge has been set. What does the Window 8 Envy do better than any of your apple products? This should be easy for James, right dsf3g?
            toddbottom3
          • Read This

            http://www.zdnet.com/hp-envy-x2-revisited-45-days-in-7000014736/
            KPOM1
          • That's not what toddbottom3 is saying

            He's saying that James likes his HP Envy good and well, but it will never be better than an Apple product. That's the bottom line. So in the end, it's always that Apple is better no matter what.

            The latest example of this is the touch screen feature. Since Apple's laptops don't have it, James feels compelled to criticize it and say it's worse than Apple "intuitive" trackpad. But when Apple releases a touch screen laptop, James will say Apple's implementation of it will be superior than on Windows.

            It's pathetic for James to say he doesn't have an Apple bias.
            laequis
          • Yet he is no better than James when it come to bias

            non-biased
          • Fanboy

            Dude, Windows 8 and Microsoft suck. Get over it.
            Marzell
          • Based on what do you make that claim?

            90%+ market share for Windows world wide?

            That Windows 8 is not doing any better in 2013 than Windows XP did in 2002?

            That the original Netbook was Linux-based but users wanted Windows instead?

            That nearly every application ever ported to UNIX/Linux has not been ported to Windows?

            You can say whatever you want about Microsoft but people clearly want what they have to sell. Get over it.
            M Wagner
          • Based on what do you make YOUR claims..?

            "90%+ market share for Windows world wide?"

            Where do you get your statistic? I have no doubt it is correct that Windows has the lion's share of legacy PC OS install base. Also, that is becoming increasingly like having the greatest market share in LP turntable or VCR sales.

            "You can say whatever you want about Microsoft but people clearly want what they have to sell."

            Oh. That must be why PC sales are in the toilet, and Surface tablets are being discounted to fire sale prices.

            "Get over it."

            Exactly.
            LoganTheJuiceWeasel
          • Not more the iCrapps

            iCrapps do suck...
            efrometa
          • @toddbottom3

            I do have to ask you toddbottom3 why you continue to purchase Apple products when it is clear that, if we give you the benefit of the doubt and believe that you don't HATE Apple, you at least believe Apple to be inferior to Windows 8 and Windows RT in every single way?

            Stop buying Apple products if Microsoft products are better. If Microsoft products AREN'T better in every single way, why is it we never, even once, hear from you how Apple products are better? Your words and your purchasing habits don't line up. No sane person continues to buy products they believe are inferior yet I can't think of a single time you've ever come out and said "Apple products X does this task better than Microsoft product Y."

            Is some company preventing you from writing anything good about Apple? If not, please explain why you continue to buy products you believe are inferior in every single way.
            danbi
          • danbi, not one of your best attacks

            The last apple products I purchased were the iphone 4 and the ipad 2. They WERE inferior in every way to MS products and so I HAVE stopped purchasing apple products. What made you think I kept buying apple products?

            To recap: apple products are inferior in every way which is why I no longer buy them. apple has lost me as a customer.
            toddbottom3
          • toddbottom3: your are not my caliber, dude

            Apparently, when you purchased your iPhone 4 and your iPad2, nether the Nokia Lumia 920, not the Microsoft Surface RT existed. So please, cut the crap.
            You found better/new toys that you purchased. Fine. Millions of people do that every single day.

            "My laptop is faster and has a better, bigger screen than the mba."

            Several people already asked you for a hint, which laptop that might be, as they too, might be interested in joining you and buying one. If I ask you, would you answer that question?
            danbi
          • You realize that he won't answer a simple question. I wonder why?

            There are many laptops that are faster and have a bigger, better screen than the MBA.
            The retina MacBook Pro, for example.
            msalzberg
          • danbi, I think you are a smart guy

            "Several people already asked you for a hint, which laptop that might be"

            If you seriously can't find a laptop that is faster than the mba and has a bigger screen, I may have to reconsider my opinion of you.

            Unless you want to go on the record and state that the mba is the fastest laptop with the biggest screen ever made?
            toddbottom3