While the Apple iPad and Google Android powered tablets are taking the world by storm at the moment, companies have been pumping out Windows tablets for the past decade. But the Windows tablets of yesteryear tended to be large, expensive, and equipped with full QWERTY keyboards and touchpads allowing you to use the tablets in laptop mode. Soon we expect to see a rush of Windows 7 tablets hit the streets with more iPad-like shapes, sizes, and prices.
There’s one big problem though: While Windows 7 includes some touch-friendly features such as pinch-to-zoom, a larger taskbar, and gesture navigation controls, overall the user interface was designed for use with a keyboard and mouse. So we’re starting to see developers come up with custom applications that replace the default UI with one that makes the experience of using a tablet without a keyboard and mouse a bit easier.
One of the more interesting designs I’ve seen to date is something called Macallan. It’s still a work in progress, but you can see some screenshots at the company’s web site and check out a demo video below. It replaces the traditional Windows desktop with a large menu on the left side of the display which you can scroll through to see a list of finger-friendly activity hubs.
There are also a series of apps that have been designed for touchscreen tablets, including a calendar app and video browser.
Overall, Macallan looks very nice — if you only plan to use the included apps. The truth of the matter is that there’s not much preventing developers from writing apps that make using the basic functions of a Windows 7 tablet just as easy as the basic UI on an Apple iPad. The problem arises when you move on to one of the main benefits of using a Windows 7 tablet — the ability for the tablet to run thousands of third party Windows apps that were designed for desktop and laptop computers.
A Windows 7 tablet can run the desktop versions of Word, Photoshop, Outlook, or pretty much any other Windows app. So while you probably wouldn’t pick up a $500 tablet with a 10 inch display and no keyboard to use as your primary computer, you can run the same software on it as you can on a desktop PC. And that’s pretty exciting — until you realize that those apps were all designed for use with a keyboard and mouse. When you try tapping on toolbars, selecting text, or even minimizing, resizing, or arranging windows on your desktop, it becomes clear that Windows 7 wasn’t designed to be touched with a fingertip — and window dressing like Macallan doesn’t really address that.
On the other hand, a Windows tablet with software like Macallan could become very useful if developers take to the platform and start writing third party apps that are finger friendly. Apple and the 250,000 apps in its App Store don’t have the monopoly on apps that are designed for capacitive touchscreen displays. It’s just that most Windows developers are only writing versions of their apps for high resolution machines with keyboard and mouse inputs.
In the meantime, while there may not be many Windows apps that are designed for Windows 7 tablets yet, a Windows tablet does support Adobe Flash, which means you should be able to watch web video and play web-based Flash games on a Windows 7 tablet running Macallan or other custom software. And maybe that will be good enough for some users.
You can check out the first Macallan demo video below. The company expects to launch the software within the next few months.
Its great to see this UI layer over Windows 7. Windows 7 is an extremely powerful OS, so something that provides touchscreen friendliness to harness its power is very welcomed. My biggest concern was browsing (I have an EXOPC), as none of the existing browsers are really touchscreen friendly, until I found this WCS Touch Browser. I don’t know how many people know about it yet, but I saw it advertised on the EXOPC forums, and it is the best browser I have ever tried. It esepcially shines on a tablet though and has a lot of unique features. I spend almost 50% of my time with EXOPC on browsing anyways so this was a godsend.
I have an EXOPC as well, but the Macallan UI looks like it has a lot more business functionality (like agenda, E-mail etc)
I have just sent them an E-mail:
A while ago I read about the Macallan UI for tablets. Is this still being developed? When will it be available for consumers? I have an EXOPC slate and I am really looking forward to the Macallan UI!
Next to that I had some questions on the actual UI. I see E-mail functionality, agenda functionality etc. Will this be linked to Microsoft Office Outlook? Meaning: if I setup an E-mail account with agenda etc, will that be reflected in the Macallan UI? Or is this a completely separate E-mail program? If it is connected to Outlook, will tasks and notes be included as well?
With regards to media. I really like the new functionality of Windows Media Player 12: “play all music” where it builds up a random playlist based upon the music library. But the rest of the UI of WMP 12 is not that good at all for a tablet. Will an integrated media player in the Macallan UI be linked to WMP 12 as well? And support this functionality?
Thanks in advance!
But I got an automated reply of a delivere failure. I believe the Macallan UI is discontinued.
I think I will be somewhat more active on the EXOPC forum and try to get stuff like this in the EXOPC UI Layer as well.
If you want to do something more than browsing the internet with your EXOPC I think the Macallan is better at this.
Yup, the project is dead:
Man, relax! It’s not worth making such a big fuzz about it 🙂
I’ve been using Windows 7 on my Asus R2H since it is out there and I am very happy with it!
The only thing I mean with “touch friendly” is:
-While I am in the car larger buttons etc can be pretty useful
-I have a resistive screen and sometimes it is hard to find the correct angle to scroll down.
WebOS will blow this away when HP get’s it on a tablet. Mainly because the entire OS was designed for touch screens and Windows wasn’t. They are trying to make a truck (Windows) handle like a sports car.
Ok…OSwise it might. But what are you going to do with that? Browse, email, surf and maybe some gaming? Can’t say this all people want. If consumers are going to buy it, great, but I can still buy an Android tablet that will do lots at half the cost. If its a enterprise device it already fails since it can’t run apps that Microsoft users in the Enterprise want. Nice thought though.
It may just be because I already run Windows 7 on multiple tablets with touchscreens, but I’m confused by this. Windows 7 is touch friendly already. Do people really think that “touch friendly” means that you have to have a kiosk-like interface? It’s okay if you WANT that on a large device, but you don’t NEED that on a large device. It’s not the fault of Windows 7 that touch is a lousy user experience on larger devices with high-enough resolutions to resolve small details. Over-sizing everything on the screen to accommodate the occlusion and inaccuracy of passive touchscreens just highlights how terrible of a user input modality touch is. This example takes things to an extreme.
When I watched this video, I didn’t see “touch friendly”, I saw “cell phone like”. What a terrible user interface for the target device. It’s not a phone, and all of these phone-like overlays will fail on large screens in the Windows world.
You need to tweak your thinking about displays and interfaces when you’re talking about touch. Nowadays, people are pretty good at understanding what it means when you buy a larger or higher resolution screen for ordinary computing. In the case of the former, information is presented bigger, and in the latter, more information is presented. Touch is different because it’s physical and not visual. For example, if you go out and buy a kitchen table that’s four times bigger than your current one, then the implication is not that you have to go out and buy plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware that are also four times bigger (although you could). The implication is that you can fit four times as much on your table as before. Similarly, suppose one of the windows in your home was made four times bigger. That wouldn’t mean that when you looked through it you’d see the same stuff as before but just four times bigger; it would mean that you’d see four times as much of what’s outside. The physical world just works different that way. The important think is neither the dimensions, resolution, or DPI of the display. The important thing is the apparent size of on-screen objects because you’re going to try to touch them as if they were physical.
Take your favorite touch-based phone, put it next your Windows 7 computer, and adjust the DPI until your onscreen elements like text, icons, and widgets are comparably sized. According to your own expressed preferences, the Windows 7 device should now be just as touch friendly as you find your phone to be. It should be just as usable as your phone, and far more useful because there’s far more space to use. However, it will not look like a silly kiosk designed to help 3-year-olds with little computing background get on youtube and browser for cartoons.
What I especially like about these sorts of initiatives is the fact that the most important things become touch-friendly.
While in the car or reading an eBook it is very useful to have everything touch friendly. As I want to use Office, MSN etc I am at the office or at home anyway so it is not a problem to connect a keyboard and a mouse.
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