Touch Major Factor Driving Industry Growth: Good News for Developers

Published: 05/06/2013, Last Updated: 05/06/2013

According to a report released by NPD Display Search, the mobile PC market is on track to more than double by 2017, increasing from 367.6 million units to 762.7 million.  Here are the specifics of how the data was broken down:

  •  Application: mini-note/tablet PCs, ultra-slim PCs, ultra-portables (~10.4”-12.5”), portables (13.1”-16.4”) and desktop replacements (~17”+)
  • Geography: worldwide or by regions: North America, EMEA, China, Japan, Asia Pacific and Latin America
  • 60+ sizes/resolutions by brand, by region by category with newly enhanced B2C (Consumer) vs. B2B (Commercial) historical tracking by region
  • Complete separation of notebook PCs and mini-notes/netbooks for tracking and forecasts
  • Comparative analysis for tablet PCs against netbooks to help determine if tablet PCs are an evolution of the personal computer or an add-on luxury device
  • Tablet PCs will be broken out into a separate category as the market dictates and moves beyond a one-product category
  • Tracking for 30+ brands including global brands as well as regional-specific brands by size, by format (for example, 16:10 vs. 16:9)

 It’s helpful to note that tablets are lumped into this study along with ultra-slim and ultra-portable PCs, which would assumedly be Ultrabooks, Ultrabook hybrids, or Ultrabook convertibles. This growth is definitely reflected by a widespread change in PC design, as we see more and more form factors take on tablet and mobile device characteristics, and touch becomes more ubiquitous in not only tablets, but any kind of computing device..

NPD Display Search also expects tablet shipments overall to rise 67% in 2013, while notebook shipments are expected to slow down a bit. Touch-enabled devices as a whole are predicted to see robust growth, with devices like the MacBook Air and Ultrabooks driving much of the consumer interest.

Touch drives growth

The primary driver of all this growth is touch; specifically, touch-enabled form factors. Touch has become a key factor and feature in PCs nowadays, and every single OEM out there has at least one touch-based device on the market. Touch is used in ultra-slim PCs which includes Ultrabooks, the MacBook Air, and other notebooks that meet this category’s specifications.  These ultra-slim notebooks are predicted to account for a whopping two-thirds of touch-enabled notebooks in 2013; by 2017, that percentage is predicted to be up to 80%.

While tablets ostensibly seem to be gaining market share over PCs according to this study, there’s a couple of very bright spots for this form factor. First, all the new designs we’ve been seeing these past two years – hybrids, sliders, convertibles, etc. – are going to be driving a true penetration of touch in the PC and tablet market. These form factors take the best features of tablets and pair them with desktops, making up a computing package that is also going down in cost.

Why this is good for developers

 One of the most exciting opportunities to come along in a while for developers is the chance to create apps specifically for the Ultrabook. Users are going to be looking specifically for apps that they can run on their Ultrabook devices to take full advantage of touch, and therefore developers who can make their apps appealing to this demographic are going to be in a very good position. Creating apps that showcase touch sensors, GPS, accelerometers, AOAC, NFC, and so on will give end users the ability to see these technologies up close and personal, and will make inroads on creating brand loyalty not only for the app, but for the Ultrabook platform. 

Ultrabooks, in particular, are offering consumers what they’ve been looking for in tablets, which is instant-on activation (even after being in sleep mode), long battery life, and a wide variety of designs. These features make these devices especially attractive to consumers

The sleek designs of Ultrabooks coming out these days, from convertibles to hybrids to detachable keyboards, practically scream out for touch-enabled GUIs. The form factors of smartphones, tablets, and now PCs (Ultrabooks in particular) lend themselves towards touch-enabled design. The posture of how we hold these devices is a natural fit for using our fingers as the input methods. For example, we hold a smartphone in one hand and use our thumbs to scroll past content. We hold a tablet in both hands and use our thumbs in tandem with our index fingers to flick, pinch, or select targets. The movements are natural, relaxed, and almost on a sub-conscious level. This is what touch design aims for: to make the experience as unified as possible with as little interference as possible.

A recent study overseen by Daria Loi, UX Innovation Manager at Intel, took on the task of seeing how subjects in different countries and walks of life would interact with touch-enabled Ultrabooks (see The Human Touch: Building Ultrabook™ Applications in a Post-PC Age). The results were encouraging as far as adaptation: an overwhelming majority of the subjects surveyed were “delighted” with touch, found it very easy to work with, and were prepared to pay more for the touch experience (good news for developers looking for ways to monetize their apps!). Here’s the video:

This study is a great example of how deeply good design and thoughtful form factor can influence how users perceive an overall computing experience. The uniqueness of the user experience cannot be underestimated or overlooked when designing an app, a system, or a new platform:

“What’s clear from the research that Daria and her team undertook is that the user experience can be improved-dramatically-by involving touch. It turns a work device into a play device, and in a commercial setting, that’s not a bad thing. Instead of thinking about it being play, think about it as being the software getting out of the way and allowing the user’s creativity to come to the fore.” – The Human Touch: Building Ultrabook Applications in a Post-PC Age

 The Ultrabook™ is a great example of user experience meets design/form factor, and developers who create apps to take advantage of this are able to meet users where they are. The concept of user experience fits in well with Intel’s idea of transparent computing, which is basically designing with the user in mind rather than a pre-arranged set of ideas. It’s all about what the user is looking for as far as accessibility and usability:

“Consumers, for the most part, don’t really care much about the hardware that they’re holding, the specs that hardware offers, or the process by which that particular piece of hardware came to be available. What they are really interested in what they can do with that hardware; i.e., what kind of programs they can run on it and what tasks they can accomplish.”

The Ultrabook was developed with user experience at the forefront, responding to calls for performance, responsiveness, greater security, and longer battery life. Therefore, app developers who design apps that are created to take advantage of next generation touch and sensors will be dialing into a system that is already tailor-made for an optimum user experience. A form factor that is responsive to user needs, paired with an app that piggybacks on that responsiveness and drives the ideal of user experience even further, is a good match for developers.



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