Why Windows 8 Might Force Microsoft into the Laptop Game

Farhad Manjoo has a great column on the pitiful performance of PC trackpads:

I switched to Apple notebooks more than five years ago, and I did so precisely because of things like the trackpad. I’ve searched high and low for a Windows notebook with a touchpad that comes close to the buttery bliss offered by the MacBook line. I haven’t found it, and you won’t either. At best, you’ll find a trackpad that can perform satisfactorily after you tweak a lot of settings—which may work fine for pros, but it’s not the kind of just-works experience that most computer users want.

This has been my exact experience as well. The thing that sold me on Macs wasn’t OS X—it was the trackpad. Of course, Apple has a natural advantage here—because it has complete control over hardware and software, it can achieve the tight integration necessary to make a highly responsive trackpad. By contrast, PC manufacturers—who rely on commodity parts–can’t fine tune components to Windows.

Now that Microsoft has entered the hardware game with Windows 8 and the Surface, it will be interesting to see if they take a similar approach to laptops. Already, Steve Ballmer has adopted the language of Apple’s approach to computing:

“We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience — hardware and software — are considered and working together.”

Given the extent to which the Metro interface in Windows 8 is even more dependent on an accurate trackpad than OS X, I wouldn’t be surprised if—within the year—Microsoft is unveiling laptops tailored to the experience it wants to provide.