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Touchscreens – from CERN to You?
If you had to pick one word to describe touch screens it would probably be ‘ubiquitous’. Touchscreens are everywhere you look – from computers, phones, tablets, car systems and vending machines. Even high end toilets include touch screen controls. One has to wonder - ‘Are we moving to a world of only touchscreen devices?’
Look at how far touchscreens have come. Although they were first invented in the mid-1970s they were not readily accessible to general consumers until just the last ten years. In the early days of touchscreen technology, the devices we created to help solve specific problems. One of the earliest examples of a touchscreen was the device used at the European Organization for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN. The touchscreen developed at CERN was built specifically for a control center at the CERN facility.
Why did it take so long for touch screens to take off? Although the materials needed to create touchscreens aren’t especially expensive, the computing system attached to the touchscreen was. Now that the price of computers has fallen drastically we’re seeing touchscreens on many more devices.
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Touchscreens in Computing
Although costs are falling for both computers and touchscreens, I think we’re still a ways off before computers are sold mostly as touchscreen devices. Several interesting offerings have shown up as a result of the introduction of Windows 8. In the next few years, as the Windows operating system evolves and fixes the issues with Windows 8 – the first Microsoft OS really focused on touch computing – we will continue to see additional options and price points offered. We will also see Android and Apple IOS devices attempting to continue offering laptop form factors.
When examining the touchscreen landscape you’re really most interested in the underlying operating system. There are four major operating systems right now – Google Android, Apple IOS, Microsoft Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT.
Android and IOS started in the mobile market – specifically cell phones but have since moved on to supporting larger tablet based devices. Windows 8 was built primarily for computing devices such as desktops and laptops. Windows RT is a variant of Windows 8 that runs on less expensive hardware but as a result is not as fully featured as Windows 8 Pro.
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Each of the mobile operating systems listed above offer a variety of form factors for their touch-enabled devices.
Devices running Android are offered in cell phone format ranging from smaller 3” displays up to large 5” displays. Tabled based formats offer touchscreens in the 6-10” range. Newer formats are adding on a detachable keyboard\docking station. This makes for the ultimate design since you can have a tablet or laptop form factor anytime you want.
Apple’s offerings are a bit more limited in selection offering only a few models of phones, a 7” and 10” tablet. Although there are limited options, these are high class, highly polished devices.
Microsoft offers a wide range of devices running both Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT. A word of warning regarding Windows RT. Just as Android and Apple IOS devices cannot run fully featured applications like Microsoft Office, Windows RT can’t either. On the other hand, Windows 8 Pro offers both a wide selection of apps and fully featured Windows applications.
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Clearing the Obstacles
Although touch devices are everywhere you look, there are still obstacles manufacturers are working hard to overcome. The biggest concern when you purchase a fancy new touch device is regarding the screen. “What happens if I drop it?” What about scratches? What if the display stops working altogether?
Glass manufacturers like Corning have developed new types of reinforced glass that allow for extra strength and scratch resistance all while being incredibly thin. As these glass technologies develop further the days of covering your touchscreen with a plastic protector may soon be over.
In addition to developing stronger glass, manufacturers are also devising ways of making touch devices more affordable. One simple way to do this is to offer ‘mini’ devices. Manufacturers such as Samsung have started offering ‘mini’ sized cell phones for just this reason.
Now they just need to start working on smudge free glass… Actually, Nokia announced in 2011 that is was working on a special hydrophobic coating that would repel liquid such as water and oil from your fingers in order to create a smudge free experience. To date devices with this coating haven’t come to market, but rest assured manufacturers are working on it.
It’s an exciting time to be a tech lover. There is so much changing it’s hard to predict what computing devices will look like a decade from now, but you can be certain that touch computing will certainly play a big part of it.