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Windows Touch & Excel 2010

Thanks to Robin Wakefield for putting together this post on touch.

With the new Windows 7 Touch platform you now have the ability to interact with applications by touching the screen. This paradigm is a huge success in the mobile market and as the hardware evolves, applications utilizing touch input will become more broadly available. We will likely begin to see touch as the primary interaction method for some PCs such as wall mounted displays used as a kiosk as well as to enhance the experience for a tablet laptop. The touch gestures are built into the core of Windows 7 which means previous versions of Excel and many other applications will already respond to touch gestures without any changes.

Our goal for Excel 2010 was to ensure these gestures were smooth and predictable when it would be inconvenient to use your mouse or keyboard either because your tablet pc is in tablet mode or it is quicker to simply touch the screen to access information in an Excel file. In order to do that we partnered with the Windows 7 team to review how well the gestures worked “out of the box†in Excel to determine if there were any changes we needed to make to optimize the reading experience.

Below are the gestures supported by Excel and the details about the changes we made to them in 2010.

Touch Gesture

Pre Excel 2010 Behavior

Excel 2010 Behavior

Tap and Double-tap – Touch and release to click.

This is the most basic touch action and it worked well in Excel without any changes.

Same as prior versions.

Scroll – Drag up or down on the content (not the scrollbar) of scrollable window to scroll. Scrolling is available with one or more fingers.

Since the surface of Excel is a grid of cells, the scrolling felt choppy and horizontal gestures were not picked up as a scroll.

We decided to enhance the vertical scrolling so it would feel smooth and add the ability to scroll horizontally as these are core to the scenario of reading that we targeted. You’ll notice details that make this a more natural interaction: the inertia if you scroll and the little bounce when the end of the worksheet is reached.

Drag – Touch and slide your finger on screen (like dragging with a mouse).

This worked well in prior versions of Excel.

One of the tradeoffs of adding the ability to scroll horizontally was we lost the ability to drag and move objects like shapes and charts around your worksheet. We felt that horizontal scrolling was more important in the context of Excel and the scenario of reading that we felt would be most common. There is a workaround of turning off single finger panning or using the Press-and-hold gesture to get a right click and then drag.

Zoom – Pinch two fingers together or apart to zoom in or out on a worksheet.

This worked well in Excel without any changes.

Same as prior versions.

Press-and-hold – Hold your finger on screen for a moment and release after the animation to get a right-click.

This worked well in Excel without any changes. You can access context/right click menus using this gesture.

Same as prior versions. In 2010 you can also use this as a workaround to drag objects.

Press-and-tap with a second finger – to get right-click, just like you would click the right button on a mouse or track pad.

This worked well in Excel without any changes.

Same as prior versions.

The following gestures are not supported by Excel.

  • Two-Finger Tap – tapping with two fingers simultaneously zooms in about the center of the gesture or restores to the default zoom – great for zooming in on hyperlinks.
  • Rotate – Touch two spots on a digital photo for example and twist to rotate it just like a real photo.
  • Flicks – Flick left or right to navigate back and forward in a browser and other apps. This works in most applications that support back and forward.

Two-Finger Tap and Rotate do not work “out of the box†in Windows 7 and require applications to add code to deal with these gestures directly. Flicks are setup to perform back and forward which is not a feature in Excel. We do have the ability to handle these gestures directly and do something that would be intuitive to Excel like using Flick to navigate between worksheets but due to time/resource constraints we were unable to make those additions this release. It would be great to hear from you as to how useful you think these would be to add in the future and ideas you have for how these gestures could be used in Excel.