“The total number of touch-screen technologies including those in production and emerging products has increased from 16 distinct approaches in mid 2007 to 20 different touch-screen
technologies this month,” said Jennifer Colegrove, senior analyst for emerging displays at iSuppli. “New touch-screen technologies are being commercialized and 12 types of touch-screen technologies now have commenced mass production.”
For example, Ntrig and Lumio have been shipping new touch-screen-technology products since the end of 2007.
Many companies commenced touch-screen manufacturing and integration in 2007 and more are starting in 2008. But this market is still volatile due to numerous acquisitions occurring while touch-screen applications either flourish or begin to die out, Colegrove observed.
Catalyzed by Apple’s highly successful iPhone, sales of touch screens using projected capacitive technology are growing dramatically. Projected capacitive touch-screen technology is more durable and has better transmittance than the more commonly-used resistive technology. More touch-screen manufacturers are developing and commercializing this type of screen. Furthermore, the average pricing gap between the capacitive and resistive display types is dwindling, making the technology more attractive.
Projected capacitive technology grew at the fastest rate of all the touch technologies in 2007, with 10.5 million units shipped, for a value of $222 million.
iSuppli forecasts that projected capacitive touch screens will maintain high growth momentum and reach 123.5 million units and $1.3 billion in revenue by 2013.
Multi-touch hits the right buttons
Since the iPhone proved that multi-touch technology can be portable and affordable, this approach has become the hot topic in the industry. Many providers of alternative touch screen technologies have announced multi-touch capabilities, such as touch-screen designer and developer NextWindow’s optical imaging camera-based touch screens. Other examples include IR Touch Systems Technology’s infrared touch screen and Stantum - formerly named JazzMutant - which has offered a multi-touch music controller since 2004.
Resistive is the most commonly used touch-screen technology in the marketplace, accounting for 91 percent of global units in 2007. However, due to low Average Selling Prices (ASP) for this technology, it accounted for only 52 percent the total touch-screen market revenue.
Although it is not very durable and has poor transmissivity, resistive’s low price and high responsiveness to both finger and stylus touch has made it the No.-1 touch-screen technology in terms of unit shipments during the last few years. However, the resistive market now is suffering a shortage of Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) film used to make such screens due to production expansions among several major manufacturers and limited numbers of ITO film suppliers.
With several large manufacturers expanding capacity, other types of transparent conductive materials such as conductive polymer, carbon nanotube and Antimony Tin Oxide (ATO) have an entry-to-market opportunity now. In fact, Fujitsu Ltd. already has started using conductive polymer for some of its resistive-type touch screens.
More technologies to come
Despite the total of eight distinct, commercialized touch-screen technologies—i.e. resistive, surface capacitive, projected capacitive, surface acoustic wave, infrared, bending wave, active digitizer and optical imaging - even more novel touch-screen approaches are being invented. These include new touch technologies from N-trig, Sony, Sharp, TMD and Samsung. Several companies recently have announced plans to commence touch-screen manufacturing. Furthermore, several mergers and acquisitions have occurred, launching new participants into the market.
For the touch-screen market, with more than 100 suppliers, in excess of 300 OEM/integrators and a wealth of technological alternatives, fascinating times are ahead.