Touchscreens: the next generation

Touchscreens: the next generation
By Shaun Marklew on 18 July 2017

Bryan Denyer, Editor of AV News

As touchscreens become almost ubiquitous in offices and meeting spaces in prestige corporate, and even HE, spaces, some end-user clients want a bit more. They like their smartphones and tablet PCs and want to emulate the user experience in their meeting rooms with large format displays that are thin, light and which consign ‘the old-school technology’ (and I use that phrase advisedly) with its chunky bezels and frames to the skip.

The future of business

With the emphasis moving to smart buildings, huddle spaces and ‘workplaces of the future’, the traditional touchscreen has suddenly become a bit ‘last year’. It’s not just the millennials, even the silver foxes have caught up with the trend away from industrial-looking devices in premium office and meeting spaces. Any user of a current smartphone or tablet will have expectations of what the touch experience should be on an IFPD.

With Microsoft already deeply ensconced in the market for collaborative technology, and Google and Cisco well on their way, these relatively new players in collaborative hardware felt compelled to offer something different – and that difference is capacitive.

Emerging markets

A pioneer of IFPDs in education, Clevertouch has elected to join the IT giants in developing projective capacitive touch technology – not as with Zytronic, in custom systems components, but as channel-friendly office and meeting room solutions. Shaun Marklew, Sales and Marketing Director, at Clevertouch explains that touch has evolved through various generations
of IR, culminating in the development of IR in-glass (such as Flat-Frog) where the touch mechanism is in the top of the glass layer. This means that if the glass is cracked or scratched, the touch screen fails. Because the glass needs to be completely clear it cannot be treated with anti-glare technology.

In projected capacitive technology, the touch layer is under the glass substrate and is less likely to suffer terminal damage by physical distress or liquid ingress. Marklew explains that there are two types of capacitive technology.

Air-bonded capacitive has air gaps between the TFT LCD panel, the touch layer (or membrane) and the protective glass. Like IR in-glass, it looks good but it costs less because it is cheaper and easier to produce. But there are downsides: it is prone to dust and condensation which can accumulate in the air gap. Light refraction in direct light can cause image distortion.

In true bonded capacitive, the layers are fully bonded so there is no air gap (there has to be a minute gap between the TFT LCD panel and membrane to prevent Newton rings effect – the ‘oily’ ring effect you get when you press your LCD monitor surface. With true bonded capacitive anti-glare can be added (Clevertouch uses chemical etching).

Features and advantages

One of the much-discussed features of capacitive technology is its ability to sense the pressure applied to each touch, and to use that data to trigger responses in software. For example, the harder you press the thicker the line can be. The end-user can deploy software that uses pressure sensitive features on it and get full benefit. Integrators can write software for it that takes advantage of pressure sensitivity.

Many graphic design software packages have used pressure sensitivity for years – for drawing. These are typically used on the Wacom graphics tablet. These can now be used on the touch screen without losing the pressure sensitive aspects. As software developers come up with interesting ways to utilise pressure sensitivity we should see it become more significant.

Early adopters

Corporate is a massive opportunity for capacitive. They want the sleek look and feel for their meeting rooms. There is a big trend towards collaborative working and corporates also now moving to cloud based working. When a corporate is cloud based, it makes it so easy for people to walk into a meeting space and access and share their content.

We’ve seen different generations of touch technology over the years and true bonded capacitive is the best touch technology available at present. It appeals to buyers that want the best there is or need the best available accuracy and responsiveness. Capacitive is ideal for applications with fine detail – architectural design, construction, engineering, product design, car manufacturers and CAD. In the medical environment – for example. viewing a brain scan – users want the highest quality of reproduction and accuracy when interacting with their content.

There is also interest from universities – some are very concerned with the aesthetics but mainly for the teaching of subjects where fine detail matters so engineering, architecture, design and medicine. True bonded capacitive lends itself to table and easel use – great for people working together to mark up plans or technical drawings. It does not register touch of non-capacitive objects so you can put a notebook or piece of paper down on it or even a cup. It makes it very natural way of interacting and collaborating – the technology does not get in the way, Clevertouch is also building in palm recognition so users can lean on the screen without it registering the false touch.

Capacitive costs

So, there are some clear advantages associated with capacitive – but, it is very expensive to produce, with limited sources of supply. Manufacture requires clean conditions, so that dust or other particles doesn’t get trapped between the layers, and a great deal of precision. In terms of raw materials, capacitive substrates require the highest quality glass – it has to be completely flat to attach the touch layer, even if the ultimate objective is to render it into a curved screen. The difficulty of producing a successful result increases as the panel size increases, making larger sized screens disproportionately expensive.

Price will continue to be the limiting factor on demand. True bonded is around double the price of standard touch. From a buyer’s perspective, there isn’t a TCO case to make. It doesn’t last longer and is no easier to repair. “Buyers will choose it because they want the best – best looking, the most responsive and accurate,” comments Marklew.

Marklew predicts that this price premium to continue for the next year or two at least – it will depend on number of products and volume of sales as always. Figures from Futuresource reveal that of approximately 20,000 IFPD screens sold, around 7.5% are capacitive. Clevertouch expects that to figure to double next year to 15%, as more products come to market.

From a reseller’s perspective, Marklew comments: “We’re building in good margin for partners – around 30% and possibly higher. Selling true bonded capacitive will demand some effort and time and we want to make it worthwhile. In contrast, we understand Hub margins are based much more on IT models and are single digit.”