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Touchscreens target PC market

Posted: 17 Jun 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:touchscreen? controller? sensor?

For years touchscreen technology has been a bust, that is, until Apple Inc. rolled out the iPhone with its eye-popping touchscreen feature. Instead of using a merchant part, Apple is said to have devised its own touchscreen ASIC for the iPhone.

Still, prompted by the iPhone and other trends, chipmakers are scrambling to expand or enter the touchscreen IC market. This emerging merchant business is expected to be fierce, and, pardon the pun, touchy.

The capacitive touchscreen and touch button controller segment is projected to hit 1.3 billion units by 2012, a 44 percent compounded annual growth rate, according to Gartner Inc

"Capacitive touchscreens are rapidly becoming common in mobile handsets, spurred by the success of the iPhone," said Amy Leong, an analyst with Gartner.

"The next big 'touch' opportunity would be in personal computers," Leong said. "In the past, capacitive touch technology has been widely used in touch pads for notebook PCs. However, manufacturers are now implementing capacitive touch technologies into PCs and PC peripherals in the form of touchscreens, proximity touch-sensing buttons or sliders and multi-touch mouse pads."

The key driver for the PC? "A key trigger for the touchscreen proliferation in the PC segment will be the availability of Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system," she said. "Windows 7 is the first operating system optimized for multi-touch features."

There are a number of touchscreen technologies: resistive, capacitive, surface acoustic wave, infrared and many others.

"There is no perfect touch technologies," Leong said. "For the emerging PC touch market, there is no obvious technology winner yet. The capacitive touch technology appears to be the more mature one for the early adopters. However, the cost of the screen is increasingly more expensive with larger screen size. Therefore, for the main stream notebook PC screen size around 15 inches, it costs more than 3x of the standard screen cost today. Its high cost is opening doors to other competitive technologies such as the multi-touch resistive technology and optical technology."

Touch bandwagon
Atmel, Broadcom, Cypress, Microchip, Renesas, Synaptics and others sell touchscreen chip technology.

And there have been a wave of announcement. Last year, Atmel signed a definitive agreement to acquire Quantum Research Group Ltd, a developer of capacitive sensing IP and solutions for user interfaces.

Then, rival Microchip Technology Inc. last year acquired Hampshire Company Inc. for an undisclosed price. Hampshire is a supplier of universal touchscreen controller electronics and software technology.

In March, Renesas Technology and Omron Corp. joined forces to develop capacitive touch sensor technology. As part of the deal, initially Renesas will integrate Omron's touch sensor technology into its R8C range of 16bit microcontrollers, which are used in industrial and consumer applications.

In May, Atmel announced an integrated capacitive touchscreen technologymaXTouchproviding touchscreen performance that exceeds today's leading edge solutions. Atmel's capacitive touch technology, combined with its AVR microcontroller, provides unlimited touch capability, the fastest response times and the highest acquisition precision.

Atmel also announced the new release of the QTouch Library, a royalty free software library. Without the need for external devices, the QTouch Library adds capacitive touch capabilities to its AVR and AVR32 microcontrollers.

In June, Synaptics Inc. unveil its new ClickPad solution, a touchpad for consumer and business users that want larger multi-finger gesture enabled TouchPads in smaller notebook designs, particularly netbooks.

Moving into a hot market, Integrated Device Technology Inc. this week purchased the touch sensor technology assets from Leadis Technology Inc.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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