At Display Week the best way to get started is the Monday seminars , which provide a technical foundation on a wide variety of subjects that are also featured prominently in the symposium and exhibitions.
I started my day at the seminar titled "Issues, Insights, and Interactions on Touch HMI," jointly presented by Gary Barrett from Touch International and Geoff Walker from Intel. Both Gary and Geoff are well known and highly experienced experts in the field of touch technology, and lately both have been on the forefront of the projected capacitive (p-cap) wave, making bold predictions on the commercial advancement of the technology as well as acting as keen observers and contributors to its success. This year they provided us with their insights on several key topics such as ITO replacement materials, the return of the pen/stylus and the potential value of "hover" mode, the future direction of coatings and the possibility of plastic top glass layers returning, limitations that still exist in p-cap today, and what the future holds for p-cap applications.
On the subject of pens and hover, there is a lot of interest in returning to pen-based interactions, because of the very high information content on today's portable devices, and I was surprised to learn that today's latest p-cap systems are so well tuned that they can be activated in many cases by an actual lead tipped pencil, which means that the opportunity for a wide family of narrow-tipped, low-cost passive styluses is back again. Of course pen computing is not new, having first come on the scene back in the 1990s, and anyone who has owned a PDA is familiar with this style of interaction. But lately the iPhone led the way in the 'finger-not-pen' debate and pen-based UIs seemed to fade away. However, I've always found pointing devices more useful and accurate than finger touch myself, and my wife uses a passive stylus on her Surface tablet most of the time, so I welcome the return of the pen.
What struck me as part of this discussion is how dynamic this technical area continues to be, with many key areas for research and development still open, including ITO replacement materials and harsh environment performance. While p-cap is good, it continues to prove Geoff's old adage that no touch solution is ever perfect. There are several good areas for innovation and competitive differentiation due to both performance and cost. During the audience questions, I asked specifically about the future for salt spray/water immunity in commercial large screen p-cap applications and was pleased to hear Gary answer that today this vulnerability can be effectively managed through firmware and may be eliminated in the near future. We've already seen at least one company commercially advertising salt water-immune p-cap, so, between this performance area and the return of the passive stylus we may be closing in on the "perfect" touch technology after all -- OK, not quite yet but I'm just sayin'... . – Stephen Atwood, Executive Editor