The newest member of the Microsoft Windows family, Windows 8, was released late last year. Anyone who has had a chance to try out a device loaded with Windows 8 will have noticed some major changes, such as a start screen instead of a start menu, built-in Windows 8 apps that look different from regular programs, and the use of shortcuts called “charms” for search and other functions.
If you’re like me, you might have found these changes a little bit awkward. Why? Windows 8 was designed for touchscreen devices, so if you’re using it on a non-touch device, you won’t have the optimal Windows 8 experience. A local conference I attended had a couple of presentations concerning this topic. (These were all preliminary results, and I could not find any published studies.) One study looked at user preferences between direct input (touchscreen) and indirect input (touchpad/mouse). Between direct input and indirect input, users of touch-capable Windows 8 devices showed a preference to direct input – given the option, they preferred using the touchscreen. Another study looked at experiences with Windows 8 machines in the home environment. Overall, satisfaction with Windows 8 devices was higher for users with touch-capable devices than for those using machines without touch capabilities.
With study results showing that Windows 8 users prefer touch devices, the market will likely continue to shift away from traditional computers and more towards touch-capable devices. I already see a ton of advertising for touch devices such as the laptop/tablet hybrid (which were the most popular device from the Windows 8 home study). Touch devices are fun to use, but as an ergonomist I am concerned with the posture implications of using a touch device. Because the screen and the input device are one and the same, there is no way to position the device ideally for all body parts involved. Your screen should be elevated so the top of the screen is at eye level and 18”- 30” away from your eyes. With a touchscreen in this position, you have to extend your arms to reach the screen, placing your shoulders in a sustained awkward posture. If you place the touch device where your arms are in a neutral position, on a work surface at elbow height, then you have extreme neck flexion to see the screen.
The studies mainly looked at device use for casual media consumption (e.g. web surfing, watching movies, playing games.) What happens if the shift towards touch-capable computers hits the office and people start using these devices six or more hours every day? Already office workers doing some work on touch devices such as smart phones and tablets, but most office workers are still using a traditional setup with a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse for the majority of their computer work, and office ergonomics programs are designed to fit this traditional computer setup to the worker. If Windows 8 has a big impact, we may see an increase in touch-capable devices in the office – and then we may need to reconsider our entire approach to office ergonomics. What do you think? Are we going to see a big shift towards touch devices, or are office workers going to hold on to their mice and keyboards?