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The rise of touch

2012 has seen touch screens being integrated into more and more tech products.

A funny thing happened alongside the release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system this fall. Traditional clamshell laptops started shipping with built-in touch screens. That's to be expected from Windows 8 hybrids and convertibles, and maybe a few high-end proof-of-concept systems, to be sure. But instead we found everyday mainstream and even budget laptops adding touch screens, some for under $550.

That's partly because Windows 8 is so tightly tied in to touch navigation that it hardly makes sense to use it without a touch screen, which is why it works (surprisingly well, really) in traditional laptops as well as the newly popular hybrid or convertible laptops that spend at least part of their time as keyboardless slates.

This is also part of a larger shift to touch control for gadgets (complemented by a growing interest in gesture control and voice control). Most of these ideas, from the iPad to bigger and more useful computer touch-pad controllers, aren't brand-new this year, but 2012 is when nearly every hot device category -- full-size tablets, newly popular 7-inch tablets, touch-enabled e-book readers, smartphones, and even laptops and desktops -- became part of a larger touch-control wave, so much so that even Apple's much-loved iMac is starting to look like the odd man out for not including a touch screen.

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