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touch technology

Display Week 2010 Review: Touch Technology

2010 was a year of incremental improvements and continued strong growth for touch technology.

by Geoff Walker

T H E R E W A S P R O B A B L Y m o r e t o u c h technology at Display Week 2010 than at any other conference worldwide in the last year. That said, 2010 was an evolutionary year rather than a revolutionary one. There were no new technologies, no major breakthroughs, and no shocking surprises. There were, how- ever, more exhibitors (67 vs. 59 in 2009), especially in the materials area. This can be taken as a sign of industry maturation, where the focus is gradually shifting from touch screens themselves to the materials and processes that go into manufacturing touch screens.

The 67 touch-related exhibitors can be classified as follows:

  • 28 module manufacturers

  • 17 materials suppliers

  • 7 display manufacturers

  • 5 controller manufacturers

  • 5 optical bonding suppliers

  • 3 haptics suppliers

  • 2 market research firms

The primary focus for the 28 module manu- facturers was evenly split between projected

Geoff Walker is the Marketing Evangelist and Industry Guru at NextWindow, a manufac- turer of optical touch screens. His industry experience includes positions at GRiD Systems, Fujitsu Personal Systems, Hand- spring, Tyco Electronics/Elo TouchSystems, as well as his own consulting firm (Walker Mobile, LLC). He can be contacted at gwalker@nextwindow.com or 408/506-7556.

capacitive (pro-cap) and analog resistive (both single-touch and multi-touch). Other touch technologies [optical, infrared, SAW, EMR (digitizer), etc.] were relatively lightly repre- sented. Again, this can be taken as a sign of industry maturation, since, according to mar- ket research firm DisplaySearch, well over 90% of industry revenue in 2010 will be pro- duced by resistive and pro-cap technologies.

Projected Capacitive (Pro-Cap) With 18 suppliers exhibiting pro-cap touch screens at Display Week 2010, it was clear that pro-cap touch has fully emerged and should henceforth be considered a “mainstream” touch technology. Besides the number of exhibitors, several other factors point to this emergence. One is that the physical construc- tions of pro-cap touch screens are starting to fall into well-defined categories (film, glass, on-cell, and wires). Figure 1 (from Sony Chemical) shows a typical film construction.

Another factor is that small quantities of pro-cap touch screens are beginning to be readily available. This is a significant change. Previously, almost all of the pro-cap suppliers were focused exclusively on high-volume consumer-electronics opportunities, and it was very difficult for a small company to find a supplier. Now that pro-cap is spreading into a wide range of devices beyond just smart- phones, companies such as RiTdisplay (US Micro Products) can provide samples only 5 weeks after approval of drawings and production in small-quantity batches.

Yet, another factor is that competition has started to shift from simple availability of pro-cap to enhancements in form factor and performance. For example, Wintek showed a 4.3-in. pro-cap touch screen with a 0.6-mm border width on three sides – with the “zero- bezel” (flush design) capability of pro-cap; this exceptionally narrow border width enables products that are literally all screen!

In the performance area, 3M continued to show progress with its exceptional 22-in. pro- cap monitor, reducing response times from 8 to 6 msec for 20 simultaneous touches. 3M pointed out that minimizing response time is important in the big picture because it is part of the overall latency of a touch screen, and latency directly affects user perception of touch-screen performance. In its booth, 3M was using a version of Google Earth that had been enhanced by Perceptive Pixel; the enhancement used a third touch to control panning (two fingers for X-Y zoom and a third finger controlling the altitude of the point of view above the map).

Maxim was also talking about some very exciting controller performance enhancements due in an upcoming product. Although the company was not ready to disclose the details yet, representatives dropped hints about an exceptionally high signal-to-noise ratio that enables the use of any stylus (not just all-metal ones), and an exceptionally low-power-con- sumption level that equals that of analog resistive.

The 18 exhibitors showing pro-cap included 3M, AMT, EETI (eGalax), LG

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0362-0972/08/2010-006$1.00 + .00 © SID 2010

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