Display Week 2009 Review: Touch Technology

Touch screens exploded in numbers and capabilities this year.

by Geoff Walker

THIS YEAR was an amazing breakthrough for touch at Display Week 2009. First, there were 27 exhibitors showing touch screens and/or controllers and another 27 showing touch-related products and services. The latter included conductive inks (2), films and coatings (5), glass (3), adhesives (1), integration (3), bonding (6), aftermarket enhancement (3), haptics (1), stylus (1), and market research (2). The total of 54 touch-related exhibitors was more than 25% of the total number of exhibitors at the show! Second, the Symposium included 16 papers directly focused on touch. This is a radical departure from previous years, when the number of papers on touch never exceeded two per year. I'm confident that these characteristics made Display Week 2009 the most touch-oriented conference anywhere in the world.

In another breakthrough statistic, 2009 was the first year that analog resistive was not the most-exhibited touch technology. This year that honor went to projected capacitive, with 11 manufacturers showing product or technology demonstrations versus seven for analog resistive. Finally, one of the unique characteristics of touch at Display Week 2009 was the fact that there was at least one example of 12 of the 13 touch technologies on display (all except vision-based optical such as developed by Microsoft and GestureTek). That made Display Week 2009 an incredible place to be for attendees interested in learning about touch (Table 1).

Projected Capacitive

The most interesting projected-capacitive (pro-cap hereinafter) demonstrations were from 3M and Gunze. 3M showed a 19-in. LCD multi-touch monitor with a 10-touch ITO-based pro-cap touch screen. The performance of this touch screen was excellent; in fact, it was the best monitor-scale pro-cap touch screen that I have ever seen. Curiously, 3M has not yet decided whether to offer it as a standalone component; the company was offering only the complete monitor as the centerpiece of a $999 "multi-touch development kit."

Gunze demonstrated a new "direct-printing-technology film" in the form of a pro-cap touch sensor. This is very exciting new tech-nology; it offers the possibility of replacing the conventional process of laminating micro-fine (10-μm) wires between glass and PET with a simple, low-cost printing process. The printed lines on the pro-cap touch sensor were barely visible; to my eye the sensor looked equal to or better than conventional wire-based sensors.

N-trig introduced a battery-powered pen for its dual-mode pro-cap laptop touch screen. Putting the power source in an aftermarket pen allows N-trig to remove the electrostatic pen-energizing coil from the touch screen, transferring some of the cost from the laptop OEM to the end-user. SMK demonstrated a pro-cap touch screen for netbooks that supported 10 simultaneous touches (that's a lot of fingers on a small screen!); Touch International showed a 22-in. product, the largest ITO-based pro-cap touch screen at the show; Tyco Electronics/Elo TouchSystems introduced its new single-layer pro-cap for mobile devices; and Zytronic demonstrated an elegant zero-bezel pro-cap touch screen with capacitive sensing pads around the edges. Other exhibitors demonstrating pro-cap touch screens included Nissha, Panjit, Wacom, and Wintek.