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iSuppli: Fascinating times ahead for touchscreens

Posted: 24 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:iSuppli report? touchscreens? user interface?

The touchscreen market has a huge potential for growth, spurring a flood of competition, technologies and OEM interest, concluded the report "Touch Screens: The Right Touch for High Growth" by Jennifer Colegrove, iSuppli Corp. senior analyst for emerging displays.

The report predicted global shipment revenue for the leading touchscreen technologies will rise to $4.4 billion by 2012, up from $2.4 billion in 2006 (see Figure).

"Catalyzed by Apple Inc.'s iPhone, sales of touchscreens using projected-capacitive technology are growing dramatically," said Colegrove. "Projected-capacitive touchscreen technology is more durable and has better transmittance than the more commonly used resistive technology. More touchscreen manufacturers are developing and commercializing this type of screen. Furthermore, the average pricing gap between the capacitive and resistive display types is dwindling, making the technology more attractive."

Can't resist
Resistive is the most commonly used touchscreen technology in the marketplace. Although it is not very durable and has poor transmissivity, resistive's low price and responsiveness to both finger and stylus touch has made it the top touchscreen technology in terms of unit shipments during the last few years.

However, the resistive market now is facing a shortage of the Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) film used to make such screens due to production expansions among several major manufacturers and limited numbers of ITO film suppliers.

With several large manufacturers expanding capacity, other types of transparent conductive materials such as conductive polymer, carbon nanotube and Antimony Tin Oxide (ATO) have an entry opportunity now. In fact, Fujitsu Ltd already has started using conductive polymer for some of its resistive-type touchscreens.

Since the iPhone proved that multitouch technology can be portable and affordable, multitouch has become the hot topic in the industry. Many providers of alternative touchscreen technologies have announced multitouch capabilities, such as the optical imaging camera-based touchscreens offered by NextWindow Ltd. Other examples include IR Touch Systems Technology Co. Ltd's infrared touchscreen, and the multitouch music controller Stantum Inc. (formerly named JazzMutant) has been offering since 2004.

Tactile feedback technology is finding usage in increasing numbers of touchscreen devices. The technology delivers a physical sensation similar to that of pressing a physical button. Tactile feedback is the differentiating factor for some new mobile phones, such as the Motorola Rokr E8.

Although resistive is the dominant touchscreen technology for mobile phones, projected capacitive and infrared began to penetrate the wireless handset segment in 2007. Technological variations being commercialized on mobile phones in 2008 and 2009 include sensor-in-pixel or in-cell touch, bending wave from Elo/Tyco Electronics, and polymer waveguide from RPO Inc.

Global shipment revenue for touchscreens

Touchscreen technologies
Retail, kiosk, public signage, financial, e-book and medical applications are adopting more touchscreen monitors to accommodate consumer preferences for intuitive and easy user interfaces. Consumers want this kind of ease of use when they check out at a grocery store, or check in at an airport. Such touchscreen monitors reduce labor costs for stores or for other institutions.

Despite the total of eight distinct, commercialized touchscreen technologiesresistive, surface capacitive, projected capacitive, surface acoustic wave, infrared, bending wave, active digitizer, optical imagingeven more novel touchscreen approaches have been invented. These include new touch technologies from N-trig, Sony, Sharp, TMD and Samsung. Several companies recently have announced plans to commence touchscreen manufacturing. Furthermore, several mergers and acquisitions have occurred, launching new participants into the market.

For the touchscreen market, with more than 100 suppliers, in excess of 300 OEM/integrators and a wealth of technological alternatives, fascinating times are ahead.

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