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Touchscreen Technology Website

News from 3M on multi-touch and also launch of new "education" site touchtopics.com which is to explain all various touchscreen technologies be they from 3M or Elo or whomever. Upcoming conferences are in California.

3M Presents "What is Multi-touch" Overview at 2009 Display Conferences
3M Launches Touch Industry Reference Site to Help Establish Touch Nomenclature

Methuen, Mass. - August 26, 2009 - Multi-touch interactivity may be the touch industry's most discussed topic and possibly the most misunderstood when single finger gestures and 10 resolvable touch points are grouped together and called "multi-touch". For software developers writing applications along this 1 to 10 finger touch spectrum and system integrators matching their requirements with existing touch solutions, understanding the multi-touch capabilities of popular technologies is important. To help clarify this touch nomenclature, 3M Touch Systems will be presenting on "Multi-touch" at two upcoming display conferences (DisplayBank U.S. FPD Conference 2009, August 20, 2009, Santa Clara, CA and DisplaySearch Emerging Displays Technology Conference, September 2, 2009, San Jose, CA) and launching a touch industry reference web site at www.touchtopics.com.

"With 25 years of touch industry experience and as a manufacturer who offers touch technologies ranging from single finger touch to 10 resolvable touch points, 3M Touch Systems is in a unique position to help standardize our industry's nomenclature," said Scott Hagermoser, business manager, 3M Touch Systems. "We've seen first hand how a simple misunderstanding of 'what is multi-touch' can create buying confusion and lead customers to select the wrong touch technology for their solution."

Whether you realize it or not, touch technology quickly is becoming the intuitive input delivery method of choice. Look no further than self-service food ordering at the gas pump, ATMs, gambling (in the back of a Las Vegas taxi cab of all places), and kiosks at nearly every department store. Depending on the situation, a good touch screen application can be a cheap way of improving the customer experience or making someone's job easier. With demand for solutions that do both, someone out there is putting these deals together. Why shouldn't it be you? I talked with touch technology experts about what specifically you need to know to seize these touch screen opportunities.

Government And Healthcare Are Ripe For Touch Screen Solutions
It's common knowledge that touch screen applications are predominant in the retail POS (point of sale) and hospitality markets. Experts agree that these markets will continue to provide VARs with revenue for years to come. However, chances are you're going to find yourself competing against other POS VARs for sales in these saturated markets. If you're looking for some underserved growth areas, there are plenty. John Dittig, channel sales manager of Elo TouchSystems, notes that he's seeing increases in touch screen adoption in healthcare and industrial applications. "The basic advantages of touch screens are time management and cost savings," says Dittig. "Most touch applications are made for ease of doing business or making employees more effective in their daily roles. There typically are not many disadvantages. Wherever there is a need for a human interface, touch makes processes and procedures better in most verticals."

One hot touch screen market isn't quite a market at all, but rather an emerging subset of the retail market: digital signage. Digital signage can be used to do everything from advertising in-store sales to delivering flight schedule information. Rob Baumgartner, director, commercial business unit of Planar Systems, says he's seeing requests for wide screen and large 40-inch-plus touch displays for digital signage applications. This is great for touch screen vendors, but when it comes to installation, is digital signage a job for a POS VAR or an audio-video specialist? "AV guys are used to some hardware issues including mounting large displays," says Baumgartner. "POS VARs have the advantage of being able to deliver solutions that account for POS needs and wants. Since digital signage typically provides computer-generated content rather than television or movie content, this points to POS VARs as the ones doing the work." If you aren't convinced that digital signage is your next moneymaker, Baumgartner has another idea. "As prices drop and people become more comfortable with touch technology in self-service applications, we've also seen growth in markets such as government, specifically with self-service kiosk applications in post offices and other government offices," says Baumgartner.

Understand The Pros And Cons Of Touch Screen Technologies
Landing on a market is only half the battle. In fact, the environments of each market pose unique challenges and pitfalls the unassuming VAR can fall prey to. "One of the most common mistakes is implementing touch technology based on cost rather than the application or environmental requirements," says Larry Loerch, sales manager, direct and channel sales at 3M Touch Systems. "For instance, offering affordable resistive touch screens in an unsupervised environment could lead to higher cost of ownership and lost revenue due to downtime and replacement/repair of damaged equipment." As your client's trusted advisor, it's ultimately your responsibility to recommend one touch screen over another. Therefore, you should be aware of the benefits and shortcomings associated with all the different touch technologies (see below). Also, the latest technology isn't necessarily the best -- rather, let each specific solution dictate which touch technology you recommend. "How the user interfaces with the touch screen is very important," says Loerch. "For instance, will the unit be used under supervision? Will the user be providing gloved, bare finger, or stylus input? Will the touch screen be located in an area with a large amount of sunlight or heat?" If you're replacing an existing touch screen, Loerch says you should be sure to examine the condition of the existing unit for surface wear, scratches, and contaminants on the screen. It may provide clues as to which technology should be used.

Of course, the prices vary according to brand, touch technology, and size. As a general rule, expect as much as a 20% increase in cost when choosing between different touch technologies. Loerch adds one final piece of information not to be overlooked:  "In addition to choosing the correct touch technology, it's important to ensure the software drivers for the touch screen will work with the operating system of the solution you're putting in place," he says. In the age of plug and play, many assume the addition of what looks like a PC monitor will be recognized by the OS seamlessly.


               Your Guide To Common Touch Screen Technologies
Resistive
  • Utilizes thin electrically charged layers that, when pressed together by an object, create a change in the electrical current registered as a touch event by the controller
  • Most widely used and cost-effective touch technology
  • Can activate with a glove, stylus, pen, or credit card
  • Works with liquid or solid contaminants
  • Typically the lowest-priced option

Infrared (IR) 
An infrared touch screen panel employs one of two very different methodologies. One method uses thermal-induced changes of the surface resistance. This method is sometimes slow and requires warm hands. Another method is an array of vertical and horizontal IR sensors that detects the interruption of a modulated light beam near the surface of the screen. IR touch screens have the most durable surfaces and are used in many military applications that require a touch panel display. 

Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW)
  • Uses ultrasonic waves that pass over the surface of the touch screen. When touched, the ultrasonic waves are interrupted and provide the location of the touch to the screen controller.
  • Hard glass substrate
  • Easy to clean
  • Can activate with a glove, stylus, pen, or credit card
  • High optical quality
  • Durable technology for demanding applications

"The main attraction of SAW is that you can use almost anything to activate it," explains Rob Baumgartner, director, commercial business unit of Planar Systems. "This also is the main drawback -- accidental touches. SAW isn't good in many medical applications because fluids running down a touch screen can change settings."
Capacitive
  • Uses a thin coating to conduct a continuous electrical current across the touch screen sensor. When the current is interrupted by the electrical field of a human touch, the coordinates of the touch are relayed to the controller
  • Hard glass substrate
  • Most durable touch technology available
  • Easy to clean
  • Works with liquid or solid contaminants
  • High optical quality

"People assume it's going to be a finger interacting with the touch screen, but if you watch a touch screen in use, you may be surprised how often people are using other things," says Baumgartner. "The hard surface of capacitive provides protection. Because it relies on electricity instead of a mechanical pressure point, the mechanism doesn't wear out."


Web sites, self-service can play nicely together according to Jim Kruper of Kioware.  With the increasing number of devices that must be served from a website, that would seem to argue for the idea of the internet site serving as the content and interface repository. From a security and source control standpoint that makes sense (ie keep/regulate data in one place).


By Jim Kruper President of KioWare, Kiosk System Software.

31 Mar 2009

At its simplest, self-service is any application that allows the end-user to perform a task with minimal supervision of the application owner.
 
In this context, the very first Web site was a self-service solution. These early Web sites contained nothing more than static information, but it enabled a consumer sitting at home to learn about a company's products without tying up company staff. Nowadays, Web sites are infinitely more useful, and it makes sense for companies to extend that self-service utility to the public kiosk realm. But useful as Web sites are as a self-service tool, Web sites and touchscreen hardware in particular do not mix.
 
When the vast majority of Web sites were developed, the user in mind was sitting behind a standard computer complete with keyboard and mouse. Today, perhaps, those developers are designing sites for users to view on a cell phone. But the one user likely not on their minds is the one standing at a kiosk, trying to interact with the site via a touchscreen. After all, the typical user's finger is probably more than 100 times wider than the mouse pointer the Web site was designed to use. This fact alone likely makes the Web site unusable in a touchscreen environment.
 
What should be kept in mind, however, is that the touchscreen interface is not the only means by which kiosk users can interact with Web sites.
 
Touchscreens are great for presenting uncluttered and simple interfaces that don't require significant text input. When text input is required, a touchscreen application must use a virtual keyboard: a graphic representation displayed on the screen that requires a user to hunt and peck using a single finger. This can be frustrating and slow to the user but a reasonable compromise when the input is minimal.
 
But what about uses that require significant text input, such as job applications? If the goal is to maximize the number of applicants, using a touchscreen should be avoided. The caveat stands regardless of whether the form is Web-based.

 

Pairing web and kiosk

 
Most obviously, self-service devices and Web sites work well together when the content of the Web site already is aligned with the goals of the self-service project. Fitting examples include: product-ordering retail kiosks that allow users to order a product not in stock, gift registry kiosks, HR kiosks that use the company's existing 401k and benefits applications, web-banking kiosks and informational kiosks in tourist spots, churches, college campuses and company lobbies.
 
Fortunately, there are many kiosk software products that enable browser-based content to be efficiently deployed to a self-service kiosk. Kiosk software titles can provide many features, but the most important ones are those that replace the existing browser software, lock down the PC, control where a user can browse, provide alternative navigation toolbars, manage the user's session to remove any trace of users when they leave, and interface with specialized kiosk hardware.
 
There are many reasons to go the software route instead of considering other, more extreme measures.
 
CONTENT. Why re-invent the wheel if the content already exists? Especially now, ROI is paramount in determining project viability. Rewriting the display layer of an existing application can cripple the ROI of the project. A visitor center kiosk is a good example. The local tourism bureau likely already has an existing Web site with links to all the local attractions. Why recreate that content and pay for it anew?
 
INTERFACES. Why confuse the user with a different interface? For a financial institution with online banking that their clients regularly use from home, a second user interface designed for a self-service kiosk will only confuse those clients and force them to learn two different interfaces that perform the same functions.
 
OPERATIONS. Maintaining a second user interface can cause operational problems. Often the organization responsible for the company's Web site is not the same organization responsible for the self-service kiosk. With two interfaces, the business logic and Web site interface will be owned by the Web site organization. And they may not notify the kiosk organization when the business logic changes, thus breaking the self-service interface. Irate kiosk customers may be the first indication of the problem.
 
THIRD PARTIES. Applications from outside vendors can prevent the development of an alternate self-service user interface. HR self-service applications are a perfect example. Most companies deploy a third party HR solution, which they don't control, so they are severely limited in how the user interface can be modified.
 
There is a middle way between the issues above and the extreme of forgoing the application of Web content to a self-service device. Kiosk software provides a solution that is convenient for the deployer, friendly to ROI and comparatively fast to put to use.