Microsoft added some gestures to improve trackpads in Windows 8, but the underlying issues with laptop trackpads weren't really addressed fully. With Windows 8.1, it appears that Microsoft is taking the issue seriously and working closely with partners to improve what has been a notoriously mixed experience for Windows users over the years. In a session at Build recently, Windows principal program manager James Clarke outlined some of the improvements being planned for the 8.1 release later this year.
Microsoft has been working with Intel, Elan, and Synaptics to allow Windows 8.1 to directly control the pointer, multi-touch, and gesture support in trackpads. For Windows users this should mean that future laptop trackpads will work more like mini touch-screens in a similar way to how Apple's MacBook trackpads operate in OS X. They'll also include smoother scrolling and better zooming and panning support. Clarke showed off a "co-engineering effort with Intel" that is a concept device using the new "Precision Touchpad" support, noting that Microsoft has "invested in accidental activation prevention to help really filter out these non-deliberate touches on the touchpad."
Laptops expected later this year with Precision Touchpad support
The work is clearly in the early stages, but Microsoft believes some laptops will debut with the improvements later this year. "These devices will be coming to market in some limited availability this holiday and then shipping in volume over the course of the next year," says Clarke. It's not clear which PC makers will take advantage of the Precision Touchpad support, but it's also possible that Intel may build this requirement into a future Ultrabook specification. Either way, it's encouraging to see Microsoft finally address the issue given the mixed trackpad experiences we've noticed across review devices. We've reached out to Microsoft for additional information, and we'll update you accordingly.