When does a touch-screen come in handy?
If manufacturers and software developers have their way, it seems, the question will soon become: When doesn't a touch-screen come in handy?
The spread of touch-screen functionality to smartphones and tablets, of course, is well-known. Apple's iPhone helped trigger the rise of Google Android smartphones, which, in turn, pressured Microsoft to produce the touch-centric Windows Phone 7. If industry analysts like Jack Gold prove correct, soon Nokia will adapt to a more touch-centric world by adopting either Android or Windows Phone 7 for its own upcoming devices.
In a similar manner, tablets with touch functionality are rapidly becoming the norm. When the Apple iPad ignited a super-charged consumer tablet market, other manufacturers saw their chance to create a new line of products. Many chose Android as the software platform for their tablets, pushing Google to create the upcoming Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb"), optimized for larger screens. Other manufacturers, including Research In Motion and Hewlett-Packard, are developing tablets that run on a proprietary operating system, but those, like iOS and Android, will rely on users' fingers as the primary means on input.
But at this January's CES (Consumer Electronics Show), and at several industry briefings since, manufacturers and software-makers have pushed touch-screen functionality among other form factors. Granted, the mobile market didn't drive the creation of touch-screen technology, which has existed for years, but the popularity of smartphones and tablets seems to be compelling companies to integrate that technology into their products in new ways.
At CES, for example, Microsoft used both its press conferences and meetings with media to demonstrate the capabilities of Surface 2, the company's next generation of tablet-size touch-screens. Surface 2 runs Windows 7 and is fronted with Gorilla glass, leading company executives to claim it can withstand a beer bottle dropped from 18 inches. Microsoft's primary market for Surface 2, which was developed in conjunction with Samsung, includes restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe, in addition to galleries and other public spaces in need of a dynamic visual display.
A few weeks after CES, Hewlett-Packard demonstrated the 23-inch TouchSmart Elite 610 and Elite 9300, two desktops that place touch functionality front and center. The PCs' software packages include a TouchSmart Apps Center on the 610 and business-oriented functionality on the 930. HP believes that touch-screens will make the devices a versatile tool for designers and other professionals, as well as retail employees.
In place of an "iPad killer," Microsoft and its manufacturing partners have also been pushing hybrid laptops with ultra-slim form factors and touch screens. At CES, for example, Samsung pushed the Series 7, a laptop whose keyboard slides underneath to convert the device into a tablet. Acer also demonstrated a notebook with a second touch-screen in place of a keyboard. Indeed, touch screens seemed to be the main story at the show, whether for tablets or smartphones.
With this increasingly flooded market, of course, the question is, how many of these devices will survive?