When it comes to laptop variety, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows blows Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac OS X away. Sure, Apple offers four different Macbooks, each with customizable specs at a variety of different price points, but there are literally hundreds of different Windows laptops, available at nearly every price point, and equipped with almost every possible hardware configuration.
But what you won't find -- or at least, you wouldn't until earlier this month -- was a Windows laptop with a respectable trackpad. "Why does every PC Notebook's trackpad suck?" wrote Farhad Manjoo for pandodaily. Apple's unorthodox mice have, at times, drawn the ire of computer users, but its trackpads have been almost universally praised.
But at long last, Microsoft's hardware partners appear to have caught up. Although it may seem minor, a wave of Windows laptops with better trackpads could help Microsoft recapture some of the high-end laptop market.
The Macbook Air finally meets its match?
The new Dell XPS 13 has received widespread praise for its slim profile, high resolution screen, excellent keyboard, and most notably, its glass trackpad.
"The [Dell XPS 13's] trackpad, long a headache on Windows laptops, is made of glass and is responsive to taps and clicks," wrote The Wall Street Journal. "It feels pretty great," said The Verge's Tom Warren, "most Windows trackpads aren't that great. But this one does feel fairly responsive."
The quality of the trackpad on the XPS 13 is partly due to Dell's hardware, but there's reason to believe that other Windows laptops will soon match it. Microsoft has been working to improve Windows trackpads for some time -- in 2013, it announced an initiative that allows hardware manufacturers to improve their PCs trackpads by taking advantage of software contained in Windows 8.1.
Mac is Apple's second-largest business
It's hard to say how many potential buyers have been swayed by Apple's quality trackpads, but it may be a nontrivial number. Apple has seen its share of the PC market grow in 33 of the last 34 quarters: Last quarter, in particular, it enjoyed robust growth, outpacing the broader PC market by almost 20%.
The iPhone-maker is now the world's fifth largest PC vendor, according to IDC. To Apple, the Mac has overtaken the iPad, becoming its second-largest business.
Maintaining a monopoly
To be sure, Apple's share of the global PC market remains in the single-digits: Microsoft's desktop monopoly is in no immediate danger. But as mobile devices capture an ever-increasing number of casual users, remaining buyers could skew to the high-end, favoring Apple's Macs.
Laptop buyers may be embracing the Macbook for a variety of reasons -- design, operating system, the Apple brand -- but the trackpad is a small detail that cannot be overlooked. Manjoo cited it as one of the key reasons he made the switch to Apple's laptops, and he's probably not alone. Writing last year, LaptopMag cited Apple's unmatched trackpad as a major feature that made the Macbook Air the best laptop on the market.
Of course, high-end Windows laptops suffer from other problems -- namely, Microsoft's operating system -- but improving the trackpad is a major step in the right direction. It's long overdue, but when it comes to input, it appears that Apple's premium laptops will finally have some real competition this year.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.