Today’s post is all about touch, and is written by Michelle Lisse, the Word team’s touch Program Manager.
These days there is a lot of excitement about touch computing. In the past we have had limited touch support in Word, but this time we went deeper and made some touch specific improvements to make Word shine on Windows 8.
This post focuses on the changes we made to improve touch authoring in Word this release. To learn more about the Office wide investments for touch, like our special touch mode ribbon and contextual menu, take a few minutes to read Clint Covington’s blog post about touch across Office. Or, if you want to learn more about consuming on touch, you can head over to our post on the new reading mode, which was designed from the ground up with touch in mind.
When it comes to writing, though, we faced some unique and difficult challenges. Word is a powerful application that has spent the last few decades being fine-tuned for mouse and keyboard interaction. This release, our goal was to enable the scenarios that are most common on touch devices without disrupting the productivity of mouse and keyboard users. So, although we couldn’t rewrite every feature to be touch first, we were able to cover the basics — sorry, Mail Merge!
Creating a Selection Model
One of the first things we had to do was reinvent our selection model for touch. The mouse model has been carefully optimized over the years, and just doesn’t translate to touch. Overlooking the absence of hover states in touch, we also have a fundamental metaphor mismatch to address.
Allow me to get nerdy for a moment… Let’s imagine you have a pointing device of some kind. It reports a pointer down message, then a drag, and finally a pointer up message. What do you expect to happen? If your pointing device is the left button on a mouse, you expect to create a selection over the range of that drag. But when that pointing device is your finger, you expect the document to scroll.
As you can see, this meant we couldn’t just take Word’s existing mouse code and reuse it for touch. We had to take decades of carefully thought out interactions, pick out the most important ones, and rethink them under an entirely new model. Everything had to be investigated anew for this project – from the basics of document navigation down to the gritty details of selection on a mixed-media canvas.
In the end, we built a navigation model using pinch to zoom and drag to pan. For some views in Word, we have a more advanced layout that actually adjust the content to best fit your windw. For these views we couldn’t just have a pinch action do a direct scaling of the content. Instead, we created a new zoom overlay that let’s you preview the new text size before committing to the change.
We also built all new text selection handles to create and refine text selections on the canvas. Working in conjunction with the Excel team, we extended the selection handles to support selection of table cells, rows and columns.
For figures, we added in live layout and the ability to drill into complex figures such as charts and SmartArt. We also made the handles larger on figures, so you can more easily grab them to resize or rotate.
Even our on-canvas UI widgets received updates to ensure appropriate visibility and usability on a touch device. For example, we have a new feature that lets you expand and collapse sections. With a mouse and keyboard, we only show the button when your cursor hovers over a heading. Touch doesn’t have a way to hover, so if we detect you’re on a touch device the button will always be visible for you to use.
There was a lot to detangle here, and each of these issues was a table stake to working with touch. If we didn’t get the basics right, there would be no point in doing anything else for touch. But doing it right makes the interactions feel fast, fluid and natural – and completing these tasks feels just as transparent to the touch user as they do in the mouse experience.
Another area where we made some improvements is in the soft keyboard experience. When using Office 2010 on Windows 7 the soft keyboard comes up and floats in front of the document. That model was great for revising a sentence, but wasn’t optimized for typing anything longer.
Now on Windows 8, we have more interaction available with the keyboard. Word can now communicate with the keyboard to make the experience better during long typing tasks. Now, Word can figure out exactly where the keyboard is and automatically adjust the content to stay above the keyboard. This allows you to type a lengthier memo without needing to manually scroll the document.
As I mentioned before, Word has a lot of tools that are really designed with mouse in mind. Some of these tools actually change your mouse cursor into another tool, and end up being deeply intertwined with hover state and mouse-specific code.
These mouse specific tools work great when you have a mouse and keyboard, but they actually became dead ends on a touch device. You’d hit the button and there was no way to escape the tool! A few examples include insert shape, view split, draw table, highlighter and format painter.
We looked closely at each of these tools and made sure to go through and eliminate all the dead ends. Now, inserting a shape via touch places the shape directly on to the page. Or, hitting format painter allows you to tap a word to paste formatting. This way you can confidently use Word on your slate device without falling into a mouse-only trap.
So that’s a summary of the improvements we made to help author documents on a touch device. We focused on really perfecting the document surface in order to enable basic authoring scenarios for today and deliver a solid foundation for the future.
The touch feature crew, most of whom are shown here, worked hard to make Word fast and fluid when using touch.