Archive for June, 2007

Jun26th

Touchscreens enter the mainstream

Touchscreen technology has been around for a long time, but it has never really made it into the mainstream of consumer devices. However, if industry analysts are to be believed, the inclusion of a touchscreen on the eagerly awaited Apple iPhone (which will hit the streets this week) could well be the catalyst to turn the technology into a must-have for mobile devices.

The use of touchscreen monitors in such sectors as information kiosks and gaming machines has been widespread for many years. In areas such as these, it is the lack of any mechanical components that is usually the deciding factor in favour of touch technology.

However, when it comes down to personal devices - whether they be phone handsets, tablet PCs or even toys - the attraction of the touchscreen is more in its ability to serve as a reconfigurable interface. After all, when the controls on interface are actually icons on a touchscreen, every fresh screen can be a fully customised keypad.

In this respect, the possibilities are particularly interesting for companies looking to address a more mature market. Why not offer software selectable controls with a choice of “button” sizes to cater for those of us with failing eyesight?

It will be interesting to see which of the existing touchscreen technologies predominates in the consumer device world. Early devices, such as the Palm Treo and Motorola ROKR E6 have used old-style resistive technology. The iPhone, however, breaks new ground by bringing capacitive touch technology to the handset market and combines it with a novel Apple-patented variation on multi-touch technology that allows users to apply two fingers to the screen at once - for example to resize a window within the display.

One trick that Apple may have missed is the option to add tactile feedback to the screen. Immersion Corp’s TouchSense technology (as reported last month on Electronicstalk) is now available for portable devices, and is set to appear on the up-market LG Prada handset, where the screen confirms the touch operation by vibrating the area touched.

So should traditional keypad manufacturers be worried? Probably not. However, if there ever was a “killer app” to take a technology into the mainstream, then the handset is certainly that. And the addition of the Apple logo in the shape of the iPhone could indeed be the deciding factor.
This comment was originally published in the Electronicstalk Newsletter