At various events, Intel (INTC -0.80%) PC client group general manager Kirk Skaugen has expressed his bullishness on the idea of touch-enabled personal computers. In fact, touchscreens are a requirement to meet Intel's 2013 Ultrabook branding specification.
One of Intel's top PC partners, Asus, recently announced the Zenbook UX305 laptop. Despite the fact that it has no touchscreen, Asus refers to the device as an Ultrabook.
Does this mean that Intel and Microsoft (MSFT 0.13%), creator of the popular Windows operating system, are backtracking on trying to push touch input for PCs? If so, is this a tacit admission that perhaps Apple (AAPL 0.13%) had it right all along by not putting touch on its MacBook lineup?
Why would Asus forgo touch?
Why would Asus forgo touch on a premium Ultrabook?"
Whenever a company like Asus designs a computer, it must make a set of engineering trade-offs. In other words, what features can be included while staying within a given price point?
By including touch, Asus would either have to sell the laptop for a higher price, or it would have to cut back on features and quality elsewhere.
In fact, I see many laptop vendors doing this. From my experience, laptop vendors will cut corners on the touch pad, the quality of the display, and sometimes the storage subsystem, quite possibly because they have to now include a touchscreen. While some customers might value the touch display over these other elements, I would wager most users would prefer a high-quality touch pad and no touchscreen than a mediocre touch pad and an average touchscreen (i.e., the Apple approach).
Even Microsoft is backtracking
If Intel is the brawn of the Wintel partnership, then Microsoft (MSFT 0.13%) is the brains. The hardware choices that Intel and its partners make are directly influenced by the usage models enabled by the Microsoft Windows operating system.
Microsoft's Windows 8 and follow-on Windows 8.1 tried to make touch an integral part of the PC experience. This is likely why Intel mandated touch as part of its 2013 Ultrabook specification.
However, even Microsoft seems to be backtracking on trying to force a touch usage model onto Windows PC users. In presenting its next-generation Windows OS (dubbed Windows 10), Microsoft signaled it understands that many computer users don't want to use touch; some simply prefer to use the traditional keyboard and mouse (or touch pad) input method.
"We're not talking about one UI to rule them all -- we're talking about one product family, with a tailored experience for each device," according to a Microsoft representative (via AnandTech)
Apple has the last laugh?
Although I am sure many Windows PCs (particularly convertible PCs) will continue to ship with touchscreens, it doesn't seem likely that Intel and Microsoft will push it nearly as aggressively as they have in the past.
This seems to validate Apple CEO Tim Cook's assertion last year that Microsoft (and, implicitly, the rest of the PC industry) was "confused" in trying to "make tablets into PCs and PCs into tablets."
It didn't even take the Asus Zenbook UX305 launch or the Windows 10 announcement to validate this; Apple's double-digit unit and revenue growth in its Mac business last quarter does a good job of that.
It appears Microsoft, Intel, and the rest of the PC ecosystem understand that the direction they were taking the PC industry wasn't a good one, and they are now changing course. Windows 10 looks good, and as long as the PC vendors offer up a compelling set of machines at every price point, the industry could extend its recovery beyond the current corporate refresh.