Touchscreens heat up enthusiasm for gadgets

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

S. John Tilak, Reuters

A customer examines his new Apple iPhone 3G at Telcel Center in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata August 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

NEW YORK – More and more shoppers are willing to spend on gadgets with a touchscreen — even if it means they lose on extra features and better quality.

Touchscreen technology has been sweeping consumer electronics, leaving few devices untouched, and even digital cameras are affected.

Commonly found in monitors in airports, banks and other public places, the technology is now a staple in consumer products, thanks to Apple Inc’s popular iPhone and phones by companies such as Palm Inc.

Joining them are computer desktops, calculators, MP3 players and watches that let users control functions by tapping, sliding or dragging a finger.

Earlier this year, Hewlett-Packard Co, the world’s biggest computer maker, launched touchscreen PCs, signaling the trend was spreading to computers. Swiss watchmaker Tissot even has a “T-Touch” line of touchscreen watches.

Customers want touchscreen devices because they are well designed, are “cool” and have no buttons.

“Touch, being one of the five human senses, is a very intuitive way of how you interact with devices,” said Francis Lee, chief executive of Synaptics, whose touchscreen technology is used in devices from Research In Motion’s new BlackBerry Storm to Apple’s iPhone.

In New York, taxis have touchscreen television sets that come with the message: “Touch, don’t press.”

Global touch-screen module revenue is forecast to grow to $6.4 billion by 2013, rising at a compound annual growth rate of 13.7 percent from 2008, according to market researcher iSuppli.


“There’s one you can touch with your finger. Where is it?” asked one eager shopper visiting a Manhattan retailer.

He found what he was looking for — a sleek, red Nikon camera with touchscreen technology. After fiddling with it for a few minutes, he left as fast as he came in, perhaps turned off by the device’s $329.99 price tag.

Sony has a wide range of touchscreen cameras and demand for them encouraged Nikon to launch the CoolPix S60.

But the technology has its drawbacks. Touchscreens often fall short in terms of functionality and picture quality, compared with devices that are similarly priced.

But many customers do not seem to care. Circuit City Stores Inc sales executive Danielle Brannigan said customers first walk into the store to get a camera without knowing it has a touchscreen feature.

“Then they go ‘Whoo. Touchscreen.’ They get excited like little kids and the first thing they say is, ‘We wanna have this one,'” she said.

Customers who already own touchscreen devices are often the ones who come looking for another.

Vinh Nguyen, a student from California visiting New York City, said he was shopping for a touchscreen camera for his girlfriend because she would have only a touchscreen device.

She already owns an iPhone, a HP TouchSmart and a Nintendo DS with the technology.

Synaptics‘ Lee said there is the same rush for digital cameras as for other appliances introducing touchscreen technology, helped by LCD screens on the devices.

The only device that might remain unaffected could be television. For many couch potatoes, a remote control is all the “cool” technology they want.

© Reuters 2008

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