Coming soon: a wave of touch-screen devices

Remember when the iPod was introduced. The click wheel was surprisingly easy to use, and mobile phone manufacturers quickly caught on, introducing mobile phones such as the LG Chocolate VX8500, Samsung X838, and the Nokia 7380Now Apple with the iPhone and Microsoft with the Surface will spark a new wave of user interface technology, primarily for mobile phones and consumer electronics such as portable game consoles, personal digital assistants, and portable navigation devices.

The iPhone is not the first cell phone to have touch screens. 38 million or 4 percent of mobile phones shipped in 2006 had touch-screens. iSuppli projects this number to grow to 90 million units by 2012. But these touch screens are single-touch. Palm Treo and Motorola ROKR E6, use “resistive touch” technology. The iPhone, LG Prada, LG Chocolate, and the HTC Touch smart phone use an advanced touch screen, featuring “projected capacitive” technology. This technology doesn’t even need actual physical contact: such touch screens already detect the proximity of a finger from 2 millimeters away. Capacitive touch screens can work with feather-like gestures, while resistive touch screens requires the harder poke of a stylus or a fingernail, making capacitive touch screens easier to work with. Capacitive touch screens are also generally brighter.

What differentiates the iPhone and Microsoft Surface from others is the Multi-touch screen that can respond to multiple simultaneous touches and can be integrated with optical imaging technologies. For example, this can be used to resize a window by pinching or expanding two fingers on the touch screen. The multi-touch screen market is expected to grow at 30.8% from $112.9 million (2007) to $433.1 million (2012).