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Touching the future with Windows 8
By Zhu Shenshen

WHERE next for computers? This is the billion dollar question technology companies constantly grapple with, and with the launch of Windows 8 on 26 October, traditional information technology giants Microsoft Corp and Intel Corp are offering their latest answers.

Though challenged by rivals such as Apple Inc and Google Inc, the "Wintel" alliance still dominates the personal computer market and aims to grab a bigger share through Windows 8 and next-generation chips for lighter, more powerful laptops.

With the latest laptop and tablet products, we can see - and touch - the obvious evolution of computing devices. They have features like dual screens, rotatable screens and hybrid two-in-one PC and tablet functionality. And future PCs will add more artificial intelligence for functions such as wireless charging, gesture control and voice or facial recognition.

With the introduction of Windows 8, the industry will undergo a big wave of upgrades not only in software, but also in hardware, creating a "rich variety" of new devices, claims Microsoft China's Windows division head Wei Qing.

Windows 8 has many new features, especially in on-screen touch support for finger-friendly interfaces, making it perfect for tablets and laptops, as well as desktop computers.

Microsoft's latest Shanghai event featured 52 computers - tablets, laptops and desktop PCs - produced by 15 companies, including industry giants Lenovo Group Ltd, Hewlett-Packard Inc, Acer Inc and Sony Corp, all running Windows 8.

Intel, the world's biggest computer chip maker, says the boundary between laptop and tablet computers is disappearing as consumers demand devices combining the super mobility of tablets and the processing power of laptops.

"It's an irresistible trend and we need new kinds of laptops," said Zhang Jian, Intel China's senior official.

Microsoft's market share in operating systems overall has declined from 70 percent in 2008 to 30 percent this year, research firm Forrester said in its latest report. It has lost out to Apple's iPad and iPhone, which run iOS, and Android smart phones, using Google's Android operating system,

A similar trend is seen in Window's alliance partner, with Intel's market share in microprocessors eaten into by rival ARM, which provides chip architecture for the iPad and iPhone.

Two-in-one devices

In the past, industry figures defined tablets as devices that allow users to receive and consume content, while laptops allow them to create content. But now two-in-one devices are appearing.

Microsoft has debuted on the Chinese mainland its Surface tablet which features an optional Touch Cover - a thin cover that doubles as a keyboard and attaches to the tablet magnetically.

And HP has launched ENVY x2, with a tablet that can be detached from the keyboard. The ENVY x2 keyboard features an HDMI port, full USB port and a longer-lasting battery.

Acer also displayed a hybrid device recently in Shanghai.

Such two-in-one devices, that come fitted with Windows 8, are expected to woo corporate users who are likely to already use Microsoft software, such as Office.

Double-sided display

"With the introduction of Windows 8, laptop design and a great variety of new devices will mark another industry milestone," predicted Intel's Zhang.

Among recent innovations is the ASUS Taichi laptop, which features a double sided touchable display. This allows the laptop to be used while the lid is closed and when open, two people can use it at the same time, one on each screen.

Lenovo's Yoga, released this month, includes a laptop mode with a keyboard and a tablet mode where the keyboard is folded under the screen.

With the introduction of more powerful chips, computers are set to become much smarter. For example, controlling computers through gesture, voice, or even facial expression will become commonplace, say experts.

Wireless charging for computers is also being researched, say experts from Intel and HP.

Some functions have been introduced in smart phones such as the Samsung Galaxy 3 and Nokia's Lumia 920.

The interface between humans and computers has evolved from keyboards to fingers. And as new innovations continue and the landscape changes, Microsoft and Intel are looking to ensure that their products continue to have a central role.

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