Microsoft is putting a big effort into improving trackpad navigation for Windows 10. While Windows 8 introduced new precision trackpads with the help of Intel, Microsoft is building on its previous work by standardizing gestures for laptops that use precision trackpads. Windows 10 will include multi-finger gestures to access new features like the notification center, Cortana, and virtual desktops. Windows trackpads have traditionally been a pain point for laptop owners, and it's something PC makers have largely ignored despite it being the primary input mechanism and key to using a laptop.
The new gestures include the ability to tap three fingers to activate Cortana, or tap four to bring up the notification center. Swiping three fingers up on the trackpad activates virtual desktops (Task View), and swiping three fingers down shows the desktop. Microsoft previously announced some last year, and the three-finger gestures activate a similar Mission Control (Exposé) feature in OS X. With the latest additions, and an increased focus on trackpad quality and gestures, it’s fair to say that Windows 10 laptops may finally rival Apple’s MacBook trackpad features with the exception of the new Force Touch Trackpad. Apple does let developers access the trackpad to build apps like BetterTouchTool so gestures are fully customizable, and we’ll have to wait and see if Microsoft has similar plans.
Microsoft is also simplifying touch swipe gestures for the edges of a tablet. If you swipe from the left in Windows 10, you’ll get a grid of most recently used apps, and swiping right will bring up the notification center. Swiping up from the bottom edge of a trackpad brings up the taskbar if a Windows 10 app is fullscreen, and swiping down activates a hidden title bar or the ability to long swipe and close an app. Those are very similar to Windows 8, but it’s encouraging to hear they’ll remain in Windows 10. Microsoft says it has "relaxed requirements" on digitizers to allow a broader range of hardware to use the touch swipe gestures.
Most of the improvements are linked to Microsoft’s new Continuum effort for 2-in-1s and tablets. Continuum is designed to provide both tablet and laptop modes that are appropriate for their inputs. Microsoft has been testing Continuum in recent Windows 10 preview builds, and it works best on devices like the Surface Pro 3 where the OS can detect a keyboard has been detached and react accordingly.