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Touch screen panel market: Smooth operations

Photonics Spectra
May 2010
Caren B. Les, caren.les@photonics.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. – In terms of units, the touch screen panel market is expected to show a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent through 2013, according to Displaybank, a market analysis firm based in Seoul, South Korea. The company predicts that there will be a demand for more than 800 million touch screen panel units in 2013, up from 280 million units in 2009. In terms of revenue, the market size is expected to reach $7.4 billion in 2013, up from $2.5 billion in 2009.

“Mobile phones dominated the touch screen panel market in 2009 with a 52 percent share, which is expected to expand to 62 percent in 2010. The touch-function equipped mobile phone is a huge trend in 2010, especially for the smart phone section, thanks to Apple’s iPhone,” said Jae Shin, senior manager, marketing/business development at Displaybank. Other application areas for touch screen panels include printers, automotives, computer/notebook monitors, electronic games, office and medical equipment, media players, kiosk displays, portable navigation devices, point-of-sale systems, and signage and professional displays.



Mobile phones such as the iPhone 3GS from Apple are the most common places to find touch screen panels. Courtesy of Apple.


Mobile phone demand was for about 1.16 billion units in 2009, a figure that is expected to grow to 1.27 billion units in 2010. Touch screen panel penetration in mobile phones, which was 12.8 percent in 2009, will probably rise to 20.2 percent in 2010 and to 35 percent in 2013, according to Displaybank analysis.

Capacitive touch technology is very promising, according to Shin. Its demand is likely to reach 120 million units in 2010 and up to 310 million units in 2013. Mobile phones are driving the demand for touch screens and, in these phones, the demand for capacitive technology will rise dramatically because it is suitable for the implementation of soft and multitouch functions. The share of the capacitive market is projected to be around 28 percent in 2010, up from 20 percent in 2009.

A capacitive touch screen panel consists of an insulator glass coated with a transparent conductor such as indium tin oxide. When a human body, also a conductor, touches the screen, it results in a distortion of the body’s electrostatic field, measurable as a change in capacitance. Projected capacitive touch technology permits more accurate and flexible operation by etching the conductive layer. It is used in applications such as point-of-sale systems, smart phones and public information kiosks. Resistive touch screen panels, dominating the market with a 79 percent share in 2009, are expected to show a decrease in share, down to 70 percent in 2010, according to Displaybank.

Shin noted that the Microsoft Windows 7 computer operating system, which incorporates multitouch technology, is becoming popular because it seems to provide better performance than its predecessor, Vista. Many new computer notebooks and monitors will incorporate touch functions to apply to Windows 7, he added.

“The emergence of the Frontier integrated touch technology in 2010 appears to be a very hot point in the industry,” said Shin, who added that, although the technology will probably have a below-one-percent share of the market in 2010, its presence will probably expand from 2011. As an example, the Datavan Frontier 1478 integrated touch screen is a multifunctional all-in-one point-of-sale terminal that can easily be integrated with magnetic stripe card reading, bar-code scanning and other systems.

Photonics-based touch screens

Lawrence Gasman, principal analyst at NanoMarkets LC, based in Glen Allen, Va., projects that revenues for touch screen displays will grow from $2.2 billion in 2010 to $3.4 billion in 2014. He explained that, although touch screen technology has been around for a long time, the arrival of low-cost and reliable multitouch technology has opened up a range of new applications for it.

“The iPhone and other similar smart phones have made the technology much more familiar, which helps with acceptability. In addition, touch is a natural way to control complex electronic machinery; if you think of the additional functionality that a computer printer now has compared with what it used to have, touch seems a better way to keep all that functionality under control compared with rows of physical buttons or complex software,” Gasman said.

“As we see it, the three fastest-growing applications for touch screen technology are office automation/computer monitors, digital signage and motor vehicles,” he said, adding that a large segment of the market will continue to come from mobile communications as touch-controlled smart phones become ubiquitous – but the underlying market for such phones is not growing especially fast, so neither is the market for touch screens associated with it.

Infrared and optical touch screens

Gasman noted that some photonics-related touch screen technologies currently have little or no market presence but indicated that this situation could change.

“One reason for the interest in infrared is that it is a mature technology that addresses the needs of the larger display market and therefore seems fairly suitable for the burgeoning digital signage business. However, there are plenty of other technologies that can meet this need, and no one expects infrared technology to really take off in a big way anytime soon,” Gasman said.

“Still, infrared has some impressive positives in its favor. These include a high degree of durability and optical performance as well as stable calibration and substrate independence. As far as the latter is concerned, it is really the only practical solution for most ‘glass free’ applications,” he added.

“There are also limitations. The display bezel must allow infrared light to pass through, which can prove a design limitation,” he explained. “In addition, infrared is arguably the worst technology for creating a flat display because the seating of the touch frame is slightly above the screen. Some OEMs – notably Apple – insist that any touch screen technology that they utilize must enable a completely flat display. The other major limitations on infrared touch screen displays are that they tend to be quite expensive and have a fairly low resolution.”

“Waveguide infrared touch screen technology is associated with one supplier, RPO Inc. of San Jose, Calif.” It is similar to traditional IR in a number of ways but is much lower in cost. However, it provides limited multitouch and isn’t as scalable as many of the other display technologies. RPO’s actual product is a 3.5-inch display, but according to sources, this technology is scalable up to 14 inches or so. There will be products using this technology in the marketplace in 2010; there may be already. The first markets being targeted are mobile devices and automotive,” he added.

“Optical touch screen technologies are already commercialized and represent a very scalable technology that can be used in displays up to 120 inches, making it a good technology for digital signage, as well as some educational applications, which with touch screen technology can become collaborative and interactive. Today, however, one of the main applications for this technology is consumer monitors and all-in-one systems. It has been adopted by both Dell and Hewlett-Packard, for example,” Gasman said.

Vision-based optical touch screens

“Vision-based optical technology is supported by Microsoft (under the name Microsoft Surface), which is obviously a vote in its favor. Other supporters of the technology include Perceptive Pixel, GestureTek and NORTD (a developer kit),” Gasman said.


Vision-based optical technology is supported in touch screen displays from a number of companies, including the Illuminate Multi-Touch Table from GestureTek. Courtesy of GestureTek.


“Vision-based optical is already beginning to generate some revenues, with all of these revenues coming from large displays; typically these displays are well over 30 inches and have glass or acrylic substrates.” Typical applications include digital signage, large retail applications and interactive video walls, he explained, adding that there are limitations to the touch objects that can be used. For the Microsoft Surface product, an IR-reflective object must be used. In other versions, only fingers may be used.

The overall technology is very similar to machine vision, which means that, to some extent, it can build on existing technology and components, Gasman noted. “In part, this is the reason why optical vision touch screen is the multitouch technology being used by a lot of firms that are doing R&D in multitouch; it is easy to build in the lab. This may have longer-term implications in that software and applications are being developed for this technology, and this may help to promote its use in the future. The early systems are fairly large and expensive ones for public, professional or military applications, and the Microsoft Surface product is a complete imaging system. Microsoft has promised low-cost consumer versions of its technology,” Gasman said.

Based on his research, he believes there are opportunities in the area of transparent conductors for optical films and coatings, especially as alternatives to indium tin oxide, which is costly and lacking in resilience.

Industry challenges

“Apart from some of the newer and ‘cooler’ technologies, the technical challenges within the industry are not huge, although analog resistive technology faces the perennial problem of cracked indium tin oxide,” Gasman said. “However, there are plenty of business challenges: (1) Most of the patents have expired on the basic touch screen technologies, so how do you get your IP protected while at the same time coming up with a technology that isn’t so novel that no one would want to adopt it? (2) Related to this: Does the world really need 20+ separate touch screen technologies? The answer is probably no. But then which ones bite the dust? (3) How exactly do the display makers get involved in this business now that it has taken off? The sensor suppliers are worried – or should be – that the display makers are going to come in and steal their business.”

Gasman added that there are emerging “in-pixel” technologies that let display makers build touch capabilities into the display when they manufacture it. “This is opposed to the regular business practice where a third party builds the sensor and integrates it into a display he has bought in. In-pixel touch could let display companies take over the touch display market, since display makers are usually large companies with lots of resources. The in-pixel technologies are usually variations on pre-existing technologies and are of several types,” he said.

Educating with touch screens

Education and conference rooms were the two largest applications for touch screens in the digital signage and professional display market in 2009, accounting for nearly 86 percent of the total unit shipments, according to a January 2010 press release from iSuppli Corp., an analysis firm based in El Segundo, Calif. According to the company, by 2013, the key applications driving this segment of the touch screen market will be education, indoor venues, conference rooms and retail signage.

“Touch screens have great appeal for use in front-projection interactive whiteboards in the education and conference room markets, said Sanju Khatri, principal analyst of signage projection for iSuppli. She wrote the Emerging Display 2009 Report –Touch Screen Interfaces Continue to Drive Growth in Signage and Professional Applications, which was released in December 2009.

“The whiteboards make it easy for a teacher or business professional to integrate a wide range of material into a presentation, such as an image from the Internet, a graph from a spreadsheet or text from a Microsoft Word file,” Khatri said.

By 2013, optical imaging will emerge as the single leading touch screen technology in the signage and professional display market, accounting for 25.6 percent of worldwide unit shipments, according to iSuppli. The dominant use for optical imaging technology will be in conference rooms.

Other touch screen technologies with capabilities suitable for the overall signage and professional display market segment include resistive, electromagnetic, projected capacitive, bending wave, infrared and surface acoustic wave.

“Optical imaging technology uses cameras to detect touch, gestures or other body movement. The resulting images are then processed by associated software to determine the touch point. In the case of gesture recognition, one’s motion triggers an interactive response from the display system with which the person is interacting,” states the press release.


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