Microsoft showed off a broad new range of hardware today at the Windows 8 developer preview, including touchscreen tablets and monitors, which will benefit from greater support for sensors like accelerometers, gyrometers, and compasses. To make sure the Windows 8 touch interface works across multiple devices from different manufacturers, Microsoft said it is using technologies such as robotic fingers to test the responsiveness of touchscreens.
A new API that ties together accelerometers, gyrometers, and compasses will make it easier for developers to use all three types of sensors while building applications.
“We have a sensor fusion API, a single API that combines the output of all of those,” said Michael Angiulo, a corporate VP in the Windows hardware and PC division. “It’s three lines of code.” The API will work across all languages developers use to build apps for Windows 8.
Microsoft showed off the new sensor capabilities with a sample application for Windows 8 tablet PCs that lets you turn a steering wheel by tilting the device. The company also demonstrated how a near field communications (NFC) card with an antenna can be used to transfer information among Windows 8 PCs.
The touchscreens aren’t limited to handheld tablets. Microsoft also showed off traditional-looking PC monitors that accept touch input. Microsoft demonstrated one of the tests it runs in Redmond to ensure performance, using what Angiulo called a “robotic finger” that is connected to a circuit board and synchronized with the clock on a PC. Windows president Steven Sinofsky helped demonstrate the test by moving the robotic finger across a touch-sensitive monitor. Samples are taken 100 times a second, comparing the actual movement of the robotic finger to the way the screen responds.
Data from these types of tests will help Microsoft’s hardware partners make better touch hardware, and make sure applications work consistently across different devices.
In contrast to Apple, which builds separate operating systems for iPads and Macs, Microsoft is attempting to bring all the capabilities of full-fledged PCs to the tablet market with Windows 8. Even touch-sensitive applications using Microsoft’s new Metro-style interface will be granted full use of keyboard and mouse. Windows 8 tablets will provide the ability to remotely access and manipulate your home PC running Windows 8, and a test device given out to developers attending the BUILD conference can hook into a dock with a USB port for mouse and keyboard, Ethernet, and HDMI with the ability to connect to two monitors.
Although the developer preview tablet made by Samsung runs Intel chips, Windows 8 will also be capable of running on the ARM architecture. Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8 running on an ARM reference device built by Qualcomm, while boasting that any applications built for Intel-powered Windows 8 PCs will work on ARM-powered ones as well.
To combat the popularity of the ultra-thin, fast-starting MacBook Air, Microsoft demonstrated new Windows 8 ultrabooks from Acer and Toshiba, promising computers that weigh less than 2.5 pounds and have batteries that are bigger than the motherboard.
For Windows 8, Microsoft has developed a new fast shutdown and boot process that closes user-facing sessions but keeps kernel processes in hibernation mode, allowing the PC to power down and use almost zero power but still start up quickly.