The takeaway for PCs from CES 2013 last week is that touchscreens are coming and they're coming fast to computers running Microsoft Windows.
That's good news for Windows 8, which is optimized for touch; but it could be good news for Google, too, because it makes it easier for the Search Goliath to move its Android mobile operating system into Microsoft's golden territory: the computer desktop.
Intel made it clear in Las Vegas that it solidly supports touchscreens coming to PCs by requiring the technology in any future notebook computer that wants the name Ultrabook.
Computer makers at the show also touted touch in what's become a popular PC form factor among consumers: the all-in-one computer. For example, Lenovo trotted out its new, sleek C540 all in one, which has a touchscreen option.
Vizio, too, showcased an all-in-one touch model in two flavors—a 24-inch version with a quad core AMD A10 4600M processor, and a 27-inch edition with a quad core Intel Core i7 chip.
As touchscreens become standard in PCs, they will eliminate an obstacle to moving Android to the desktop. If Android can obtain a beachhead on the desktop, it's very likely to pull its following—now numbering in the millions—with it.
Microsoft sees the obvious benefits of having an operating system that spans platforms—notebooks, desktops, tablets, and smartphones, in the case of Windows. It currently dominates two of those areas—notebooks and desktops—but Android has the upper hand in tablets and smartphones.
So far, Microsoft has been unable to grab a significant market share of the smartphone and tablet market, despite investing heavily in marketing efforts. It remains to be seen what will happen if Google makes similar efforts to crack the notebook and tablet market.
Lessons from Chromebooks?
Granted, Google's experiment with hardware with its Chrome notebook hasn't exactly been a bestseller, but it's not based on Android—an operating system familiar to many people—and it doesn't support touch.
Signs suggest that Google is interested in the desktop. Last year, for example, it filed a patent for mapping Android touchscreen gestures to a trackpad. That patent would be superfluous, of course, if touchscreens become standard equipment on PCs.
Some dabblers have also tested the waters with Android-based hardware. In May 2012, for instance, Via introduced a $49 mini-motherboard that uses a custom version of Android as its operating system. More recently, Giada, a company that specializes in small-footprint computers, introduced two models designed to run on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
Some industry observers reason that if Android arrives on the desktop, it could attract its share of hardware makers fed up with paying royalties to Microsoft for using Windows. Chances are, though, they'll still pay royalties to Microsoft if they use Android, as some smartphone makers, who have paid millions of dollars in royalties to Redmond, have already discovered.