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The Right Touch: Touch-Screen PCs

Some small businesses can thrive with the help of touch-screen computers, such as restaurants or businesses that dispatch salespeople to different locations. Here's a rundown on what you need to know about this touchy subject.
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Touch-screen technology can be found in all the latest smartphones -- with products such as the Apple iPhone, BlackBerry Storm, HTC Touch Diamond, and Samsung Instinct, to name a few. But whether or not this trend will extend to business computers is subject to opinion, and application.

Certain types of small businesses, for example, might thrive with the help of touch-screen computers. In the food or retail industry, access to a touch-screen to quickly place food orders or view merchandise information provides an intuitive interface for customers and employees alike.

HP has just launched its Touch Smart tx2, a convertible tablet/laptop hybrid with a multi-touch screen technology not unlike the iPhone. Users can pinch, swipe, or draw with a finger or two to write on the display, browse the Web, and control media.

A feel-good interface

On how to decide if touch-screen PCs are right for you and your business, here's what the experts advise.

'Touchscreen PCs are like dirty martinis: they're right for some, not right for others,' begins Steve Hilton, vice president of enterprise and small and mid-sized business research at the Boston-based Yankee Group.

For a small or mid-sized business accounting manager, for example, 'a touch-screen PC is probably not so helpful because you spend most of your time on Microsoft Excel or some kind of accounting application,' says Hilton. 'But if you're a graphic designer, Web developer, or other creative type, a touch-screen PC can be a cool idea.'

Hilton says Yankee Group has a test panel, a group of executives from small and mid-sized businesses, which tests new technologies for the market research firm. 'One group is an online game developer and the designers at that studio simply love the idea of touch-screen computers,' explains Hilton. 'So this technology fits a relevant niche in the market.'

"Businesses have shown interest in having touch technology -- this is untapped to date,' says Anneliese Olson, director of worldwide product marketing for business desktops at HP. 'There is a need for easy-to-use, customized touch applications in vertical markets… especially designed for use in kiosks, customer-facing compute spaces, education and training, conference rooms, front desk and lobby areas, and even general office use.'

A touchy subject

But not everyone is sold on touch-screen PCs.

'Even though we're seeing touch devices coming to market and Microsoft supporting touch in the future versions of Windows, at the end of the day a lot of this functionality is more gratuitous than anything else,' believes Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy for the Jupitermedia research group in New York City.

PC operating systems weren't designed with touch in mind. 'Unless you're CNN that needs touch-screen devices to show information during an election, you're better off saving the money you'd spend on a touch-screen and buy better smartphones or a better class of machine with more memory or better components,' adds Gartenberg.

'There just isn't a lot of functionality in touch for most users," he says. "The value of these screens is more in mobile devices than personal computers.'

Last updated: Jan 1, 2009




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