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Keys to the Kiosk: The Temptations of Touchscreens

Mark Fritz

April 2000 | Even before a newborn infant's vision has completely cleared, it is already exploring its new world by reaching out and touching. The desire to touch is innate, primal. Therefore, what could be more intuitive and natural than interactive computer applications that can be controlled by touch? Heck, you don't even need to have a finger or even be a human being to use a touchscreen. Take the dolphins at a Maui research facility, for example, who poke touchscreens with their snouts.

While touchscreens have been around since the 1970s, only lately has this technology really come of age. Touchscreens are now ubiquitous, showing up in banks, casinos, restaurants, hotels, airports, hospitals--you name it. Once considered expensive and finicky, touchscreen technology has matured, and become more reliable, more flexible, and more economical. Developers of interactive CD-ROM and DVD applications may want to take another look at touchscreens. There are now touchscreen solutions to fit nearly every situation and pocketbook.

Although the touchscreen business is estimated to be about a $510-million-a- year industry, the use of touchscreens for interactive multimedia applications is actually only a small niche of the overall market. Touchscreens are also implemented in industrial process control, where they are used to control everything from missile systems to assemblyline robots. Lately, touchscreen man- ufacturers have hit the jackpot in the gaming industry, where touchscreens are quickly replacing the old-fashioned one-armed bandits. Touchscreen monitors have also proliferated in retail sales, where they are used as point-of-sale aids for inventory checking and for customer self-service. Sometimes these monitors are used simply as dummy-proof cash registers. Another growing market segment is mobile computing, where touch technology often serves as input control for smart phones, personal digital assistants, and other handheld devices.

Within the interactive multimedia niche, most touchscreens find their homes in kiosks. Once dominated by localized storage (hard disk and CD-ROM) solutions, the kiosk market is quickly being overrun by the Internet, as more and more companies join the craze to hook public-access kiosks to their Web sites. In many instances, this makes a lot of sense, as it allows a company to leverage the investment it has made in its Web site. There's no wheel re-inventing involved. And when you make a change to your Web site, your kiosk is updated automatically.

TOUCHED IN THE HEAD: WHY TRY A TOUCHSCREEN?

A touchscreen's most obvious advantage is its directness: what you touch is what you get. This simplifies the whole computer/human interface, eliminates learning curves, and instantly transforms anyone who can touch into an expert user. (Can't type? No problem.) And touchscreens provide fast access. It takes time to reach for a mouse and maneuver it to where you need it on the screen. Because touch control is more direct, users can work faster.

A touchscreen interface greatly reduces a user's control options. While this may sound bad, it is actually a good thing, for several reasons. First, it increases system security. A hacker with an ordinary computer interface can do untold destruction, but take away the keyboard and give him only pre-determined menu choices, and he is rendered powerless. Reducing choices also increases user efficiency and accuracy. Menu choices guide users step-by-step through a process, thus virtually eliminating operator error.

Touchscreen systems are more reliable, durable, and secure that other interface devices. Keyboards and mice are easily stolen and very susceptible to wear and tear, vandalism, and environmental hazards. "With touchscreens, you never have to worry about spilling a coffee on your keyboard," observes MicroTouch director of product marketing Alice Moran. And being easy to clean makes touchscreens good for places where hygiene is important, such as in hospitals and restaurants.

Another obvious advantage of touchscreens is that they are compact. They don't take up valuable desktop or counter space the way mice and keyboards do.

TOUCH-TYPING: THE BIG FOUR

Four basic touchscreen technologies dominate the market today: capacitive, resistive, acoustic wave (surface or directed), and infrared. There are also several fringe technologies such as near-field imaging and force-vector touchscreens, but they are still either too experimental or too specialized to have made a significant impact on the market.

Of the big four, the most prevalent is resistive, with 56 percent of the market, according to market share statistics from MicroTouch.

Resistive

Usually, resistive touchscreens consist of a plastic membrane separated from a glass substrate by small, clear, non-conductive dot-like spacers. Both glass and plastic layers have conductive coatings so that when the two make contact, an electrical circuit is created and a signal flows to the control destination--usually a computer. One has to exert a certain amount of pressure to get the two layers to make contact. The touch instrument is usually a finger, but just about any kind of stylus will also work.

A resistive touchscreen's tough plastic outer layer does much to protect the monitor, and makes this technology good for use in high-contaminant environments. Contaminant-resistance was the key feature that convinced both Home Depot and McDonald's restaurants to choose resistive touchscreens. "We could not assume a user would have clean hands," says Danny Branch, Home Depot's IS director of store and merchandising systems. "Typically, an associate could have been picking up bags of concrete or working with any one of the chemicals the store carries. So we needed a touchscreen that would not only be easy to use but also durable enough to withstand our environment."

McDonald's doesn't sell chemicals, but even something like ketchup on a monitor can cause some types of touchscreens to malfunction. Ketchup wouldn't affect the operation of a resistive screen and, besides, the plastic overlay is easy to wipe clean. These plastic membranes do eventually wear out, however, and they can be punctured by sharp objects. For that reason, they are considered less-than-ideal for public-access kiosks, where user abuse and vandalism sometimes occur.

Another feature of resistive touchscreens that people like Home Depot employees appreciate is that they can be operated by a gloved hand. There are two types of resistive touchscreens: 4-wire and 5-wire. The 5-wire version is more complex, and it provides a certain redundancy factor not found in the simpler 4-wire systems. A 5-wire touchscreen is much more durable and will last much longer than a 4-wire touchscreen. For example, MicroTouch rates its 5-wire touchscreens as being able to handle 35 million touches, while its 4-wire touchscreens are rated at only 3 million touches. Naturally, 5-wire touchscreens command premium prices. Since 4-wire is less expensive, it is more pervasive, with about 43 percent of the market, compared to 5-wire's 13 percent.

Capacitive

Unlike a resistive touchscreen, a capacitive touchscreen is not pressure-sensitive and uses no plastic overlay. Instead, a capacitive touchscreen consists of a glass substrate with a thin-film conductive coating fused right into the glass. On top of this is another anti-scratch glass overcoat. This seals in the sensor electronics and makes them impervious to scratches.

Circuits at the corners of a capacitive screen uniformly distribute a low-voltage AC field over the conductive surface. When a finger disrupts that field, the controller measures the change in current flowing from each corner and calculates the X and Y coordinates, which tell the computer the exact point of the screen where the user is touching.

Because capacitive touchscreens cover a monitor with thick, hard glass and because the bezel that mounts the glass screen to the monitor can be sealed, these touchscreens are quite resistant to environmental contaminants like water, dust, dirt, and grease. This makes them arguably the most durable and reliable type of touchscreen, and consequently they are more expensive than resistive screens. They are commonly used in the most demanding environments, such as public-access kiosks, gaming machines, industrial controls, and restaurant applications.

Acoustic Wave

While capacitive systems work by transmitting an electrical signal across the surface of a touchscreen, acoustic wave systems work by transmitting ultrasonic acoustic waves across the front surface of a touchscreen. When you touch the screen, you absorb some of the wave, which sends a signal to receiving transducers around the perimeter of the screen.

While most acoustic wave touchscreens use glass overlays, Elo TouchSystems' iTouch "touch-on-tube" technology directs sound waves across the CRT surface itself. The result is a much clearer image, since there's nothing covering the CRT to degrade its picture quality. The company's more traditional IntelliTouch acoustic wave products, on the other hand, use a glass overlay.

One of acoustic wave's biggest advantages is its "drift-free" operation, which means it seldom needs recalibrating. Surface acoustic wave's biggest disadvantage is that it is not completely sealable. Therefore, its performance can be affected by contaminants (dirt, dust, water) in the environment. Users say dirt and dust tend to collect around the bezel. You must control an acoustic wave touchscreen with something that will absorb energy, such as a finger (gloved or ungloved). Something hard, such as a pen, won't work.

Infrared

Just as acoustic wave technologies transmit sound waves across a monitor screen, infrared systems transmit light beams across a screen. Using infrared light emitting diodes around the screen's frame or bezel, a matrix of infrared light beams is transmitted vertically and horizontally across the screen. When a stylus or a finger blocks the light, photo transistors detect the change and send a signal that indicates the X-Y coordinates.

Infrared's main advantage is that it can be used without an overlay, so there's nothing covering the monitor to degrade image quality. In contrast, a resistive overlay can degrade an image by up to 25 percent, according to industry experts. Infrared's main disadvantage is its relatively low touch resolution. Due to this problem and the screens' inherent sensor complexity, infrared touchscreens are not good for mouse emulation applications or for use in low-cost consumer devices. This explains why the technology accounts for only about 4 percent of the overall touchscreen market.

Among the various technologies, infrared's activation or response time is the slowest, with response times as high as 40ms. "Infrared touchscreens are most popularly used for public information systems, where high resolution is unnecessary," says Elo TouchSystems product manager John Stewart. "In situations where high accuracy is important, say with a signature recognition app, for example, you'd be better off using something like acoustic wave," he says.

TOUCH LCD VS. TOUCH CRT

One of the primary choices facing builders of touchscreen-based kiosks is whether to use an old-fashioned cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor or a new-fangled liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor. Salespeople would like you to choose LCD. There's a higher profit margin with LCDs, and their flatness makes it easier to fit touchscreen overlays to them. CRTs are problematic, says Alice Moran, director of product marketing for MicroTouch, because each CRT model from each monitor manufacturer is slightly different. "It's hard matching overlay glass to each CRT model's unique curvature," she says. But she also feels LCD just looks better. "An LCD monitor has tremendous visual presence. The image is clear, crisp, and bright," she says.

The obvious downside to LCD monitors is that they cost about twice as much as regular CRT monitors. This initial-outlay savings could end up costing you more in the long run, however, if your application is meant to remain in place for a long time. That's because LCDs last considerably longer than CRTs. According to Elo TouchSystems, the average life expectancy of a CRT running 24 hours a day, seven days a week is about 12,000 to 15,000 hours (or 1.5 to 2 years). In comparison, an LCD will last 25,000 to 30,000 hours (or 3 to 4 years). Also, LCDs are easy to refurbish by replacing the backlight. With CRTs, once the tube is shot, you may as well throw the whole monitor away.

LCD's most obvious upside is its space-saving footprint. An LCD will take up about 40 percent less overall space than a CRT of an equal screen size. LCDs are not only significantly thinner than CRTs, but because their screens are flat, the actual viewing area is proportionately larger than a same-size but curved-screen CRT. For example, the viewing area of a 15-inch LCD screen is nearly equivalent to the viewing area of a 17-inch CRT. Flat LCDs can be easily mounted on a wall to free up desk or counter space. LCDs also weigh much less than CRTs, which makes them easier to mount on articulating swing arms and cheaper to ship. LCDs also consume about one-third the power of a similar-sized CRT, and thus they generate less heat. This makes them better for placing in confined spaces such as kiosk enclosures.

Another issue for comparison is "burn-in." According to Gregory Green, CEO of Questa Corporation, "Anyone who has experienced monitor burn-in from an image being on the screen too long will appreciate an LCD monitor because it does not burn in, even if the same menu is continuously on the screen for days."

LCDs are nearly twice as bright as CRTs, which makes them best for public spaces where there are high ambient light levels. In any environment, this extra brightness attracts attention and invites usage. LCD monitors do have a very limited viewing angle. To get a good view, you have to stand right in front of one. This makes them inappropriate for group viewing. For kiosk use, however, this usually isn't a problem--a touchscreen almost forces a user to stand (at arm's length) right in front of the monitor. An example where CRT would be a better choice would be a touchscreen application meant for teacher-controlled viewing by an entire classroom of students. Because CRTs have higher resolution than LCDs, they are the monitor of choice in applications were detail is important, such as in medical imaging.

For DVD users, LCDs will be a hard sell. DVD's motion video looks much better on CRT than on LCD, and a CRT monitor will cost about half the price of an LCD. And since DVD players can hook up to regular TVs, DVD developers can save even more money (about half again) by choosing a regular TV set over a CRT computer monitor. Add these differences up (one half of one half = one quarter) and you see that a DVD user can buy a TV at a quarter of the price of an LCD. But then there's also the chic factor--LCDs just look cooler. First-impression flashiness can be particularly important in the advertising and marketing games.

Of course, if money is no object and making an impact is crucial, you might want to step beyond both CRT and LCD into the realm of gas plasma displays. Gas plasma monitors look fabulous, providing a warm glowing image with great texture and depth. Like LCDs, they are useful in high ambient light environments. They are even more fragile than LCDs, and require extra protection against abuse. With their native 16:9 aspect ratio and good video- handling capabilities, gas plasma monitors are a natural for DVD use. Unfortunately, they cost between $5,000 and $20,000.

Although MicroTouch makes a controller for gas plasma displays, not a lot of people are using them yet. In late 1999, TouchVision of Seal Beach, California deployed a network of its Plasma Deluxe kiosks in eight major resort hotels in the Caribbean. The kiosks feature 42-inch gas plasma displays from NEC, but the presentation is actually controlled through a touchscreen-equipped 17-inch CRT monitor. The gas plasma display is mounted in a backwall panel above the CRT monitor. These big wall-mounted displays are meant to attract the attention of passersby with a combination of high-resolution stills, full-screen MPEG video, and Shockwave animation. TouchVision says they've gotten a lot of inquiries about this system and expect to roll out over 100 more this year, mostly in the retail, tourism, and entertainment industries. They predict that the gas plasma display's high-visibility factor and attention-getting qualities will make it popular in ecommerce and advertising. It will also find natural homes in high-traffic locations such as airports, shopping malls, and resorts.

TouchVision says that it's geared up to build kiosks in which the gas plasma display is the primary touchscreen control, but it hasn't had much demand. Noting that gas plasma displays are both fragile and expensive, a TouchVision spokesman commented: "Right now, they're too expensive to have people pawing at them."

Questa says it will begin offering touchscreen-based plasma monitors with its DVD kiosks sometime later this year. The company is working on its own proprietary capacitive touchscreen technology for this use. "There are still some problems with gas plasma displays emitting RF noise out of the front," says Questa CEO Gregory Green. "We need to find a good filtering process." As for the fragility of gas plasma displays, Green feels this isn't a huge problem. "The glass on a plasma monitor is pretty substantial," he says. "As long as they're securely mounted, they'll be okay. Actually, being fragile is more of a shipping issue." A more serious issue that Green worries may inhibit gas plasma acceptance is these monitors' susceptibility to burn-in.

SOMETIMES WHEN WE TOUCH: THE BOTTOM LINE

In comparing touchscreen technologies, the bottom line is that you get what you pay for. Resistive touchscreens are the cheapest, but they also have the most disadvantages. Their plastic overlays degrade image quality and are more susceptible to damage, and they require frequent calibration. Both acoustic wave and infrared provide clearer images and are relatively calibration-free, but they are not as sealable from environmental contaminants as capacitive screens are. And they are more expensive.

For an exhaustive comparison of the various technologies, visit the Carroll Touch Web site (http://www.carrolltouch.com/CTgraph/techeval.htm). The nine-page report there compares the technologies using the following parameters: resolution and Z-axis; transmissivity; activation, parallax, and response time; stylus type; drift, calibration and alignment; integration; reliability of sensors and controllers; sealability; durability and resistance to vandalism; resistance to dust and dirt; resistance to chemicals; resistance to vibration and shock; resistance to temperature, humidity, and altitude; and resistance to ambient light. Just keep in mind that Carroll Touch (now part of Elo TouchSystems) is the leading supplier of infrared touchscreens, and is therefore likely to be a bit prejudiced in favor of infrared. Still, it should serve as a useful starting point as you get in touch with the inner touchscreen interface in any project you're developing.


The 10 Commandments of Touchscreens
Developer Design Tips

Arguably the worst kiosks in existence are the ones that have been created by developers who have added a touchscreen interface as an afterthought. It is a huge mistake to assume that a touchscreen is a mere mouse substitute that can be grafted onto any old mouse-driven application. A good touchscreen-based kiosk application will have a look and feel unlike any other type of interactive application. And touchscreen development has its own unique hurdles and issues. Touchscreen experts and experienced developers say that for touchscreen application to be successful, it must be planned as a touchscreen application from the outset.

With that warning in mind, here is a list of touchscreen application development tips culled from design and development experts at both Elo TouchSystems and MicroTouch.

  1. Know your audience/user
    As with any software design, it is important to have a good profile of the end users of your application. You should know your target audience's culture and skill level.

  2. Build touch systems with touch systems
    Be sure to supply your development team with touchscreen-based computers before design begins. Don't let them build the app with a mouse-controlled system and wait until it's done to test it on a touchscreen system. Test usability periodically as you go along.

  3. Avoid complex GUI design
    Use a simple point-and-click interface. Remember, a touchscreen isn't a mouse, so don't try to incorporate dragging and dropping or pull-down menus. These things, along with double-clicks, scroll bars, and multiple windows, tend to confuse users and slow them down.

  4. Run applications full-screen
    Remove title bars and menu bars so your application can take full advantage of the entire display area. And don't forget to turn the cursor off, so that your users aren't confused by the presence of a pointing mechanism they can't control.

  5. Build for speed
    Users expect immediate feedback. They'll quickly walk away from a sluggish system. Therefore, you must keep their attention with a quick response to touches. Fast feedback will also help prevent the sort of user frustration that often results in vandalism. Don't use graphics modes that offer excessive colors or unnecessarily high resolution--they only slow down your system. If your application requires a delay--for printing or dialing for Internet access--provide some sort of graphical time indicator, such as an hourglass or thermometer, that reflects the time remaining in the execution of the software command. Similarly, orient the user to the time and depth of the process--such as, "Step 1 of 5 steps"--when your applications require several menus or screens.

  6. Limit choices
    Don't offer untrained users more than four to six choices per screen. If you are designing a business application for trained users, however, you can use more choices--as long as the choices are organized thoughtfully. Provide a "home" button on virtually every screen so users don't get lost in nested menus.

  7. Test usability
    Test your application on focus groups. If users pause in confusion, even for a moment, you've identified an area that needs improvement. Make sure the user groups reflect the diversity of your target audience.

  8. Be careful with button design
    Bigger buttons are better. They have to be at least the size of an average human fingertip. For applications used by trained personnel, most designers believe a .5-inch square (about the size of a fingertip) is the smallest feasible unit for finger touch. For public-access applications, this should be raised to 150 x 200

    pixels--assuming the screen resolution is 640 x 480. Avoid placing buttons too close to the edge of the screen where the monitor bezels can make buttons difficult to reach. A common button design trick is to make the actual touch-sensitive area a bit larger than the graphical button. That way if the user is a little awkward or fumble-fingered, a less-than-dead-on hit will still register. Make sure to leave enough space between buttons. Most people look for certain key buttons--such as Next Page or Exit--in the lower right hand corner, so save this area for your application's key control buttons.

  9. Give careful thought to colors
    Use bright background colors (not black). Dark backgrounds accentuate on-screen fingerprints; using lighter backgrounds helps hide smudges and reduce glare. Dithering or other patterned or textured backgrounds also help combat screen glare. This is especially important if you know your app is going to be used in environments with high ambient lighting.

  10. Give immediate touch-feedback
    Always give your users feedback as soon as they touch the screen. This is critical since the user gets no tactile feedback like the click of a key or a mouse. Many touchscreen designers add an audible click sound, which emulates the click of a key or mouse, and thus gives a familiar cue (at least to those users who are familiar with PCs) that a touch has been sensed. Visual feedback should also be given: reverse out the selected touch button, highlight it, or change the color when the user touches it.


Touch and Go
Touchscreens and DVD

Just as DVD itself has been slow to catch on in the business world, so too has the use of touchscreens with DVD been slow to catch on. There are several reasons for this. First, like a mouse or any other input device, a touchscreen needs a way to connect to its host. Most DVD players don't feature input connectors. Until Philips released its ProDVD170 industrial player, the only DVD player you could buy that had an RS-232 serial port was Pioneer's DVD-V7200.

Another problem is that every DVD player seems to require its own unique "controller". Touchscreens require special controllers, which are dedicated electronics (usually a circuit board that attaches to the monitor) that take the touchscreen's input signals (acoustic, infrared, etc.) and convert them into something that can be understood by the computer. While there is no universal controller standard, each touchscreen manufacturer has now standardized its own proprietary controllers for interfacing with PCs and Macs. But to the manufacturers, DVD players are a completely different animal. Further complicating the touchscreen-to-DVD connection is the fact that touchscreens frequently need to be recalibrated. In a computer, that's easily done by running a software utility. A DVD player may be a smart appliance, but it isn't a computer and, therefore, recalibrating is problematic.

Today, several companies, most notably Neuro Logic Systems of Camarillo, California and Questa Corporation of Acton, Massachusetts, specialize in providing touchscreen monitors for DVD-Video players, mostly for use in kiosk applications. Founded in 1989, Questa was creating kiosks that featured CD-ROM and hard drives until finally embracing DVD. Questa CEO Gregory Green thinks using a DVD in a kiosk is ideal because it simplifies the job of assembling a reliable hardware platform. "What DVD means for kiosk developers is that a computer is no longer needed." The trouble with computers, he continues, is that "computers inherently have problems and require ongoing updates to their configurations. They are made with complex components that require implementation of multiple standards." DVD, on the other hand, is a recognized international standard. "DVD means it is now possible to design and program kiosks using a single universal cross-platform standard," says Green.

Andy Parsons, vice president of product development and technical support for Pioneer New Media Technologies, is equally upbeat about touchscreen-based DVD. "After showing a 7200 player coupled directly to a touchscreen monitor at NAB, we got tremendous interest. I think everyone fell in love with the idea of its simplicity--no computers, no programming, just connect the two devices and off you go."

Now thanks to DVD's simplicity, people can build kiosks that are "bulletproof," says Green. "DVD now makes it possible for kiosk developers to sell a truly maintenance-free system that can be taken out of the box, set up, and even updated by untrained customer staff. It's actually easier than setting up a VCR." According to Green, "Nothing comes closer to achieving 100 percent problem-free performance than an industrial DVD player-based kiosk."

Cutting the computer out of the loop also affects the bottom line, Neuro Logic's director of sales Tom Nielsen points out. He claims that a DVD-based kiosk is "one-half to one-third the cost of an equivalent computer-based solution." That statement rings true when you consider how much less expensive a DVD player is than a computer. Also, a DVD player can attach to a TV, which can be purchased for half the price of a computer monitor. Nielsen says his company offers packages that include a DVD player and a Touch-TV (a touchscreen-equipped Sony TV) at prices as low as $799.

But DVD is not without its detractors. Interactive Sales Systems, a company acclaimed for its innovative custom P.O.P kiosks, remains reluctant. According to company president Don Lunetta, "The DVD player's two- to three-second access time is intolerable." Users get impatient and press a second time, he says; then they get frustrated. In a sales situation, frustrating the buyer is suicidal. And in public access and point-of-information applications, user frustration often leads to destructive abuse. In place of DVD, Interactive Sales Systems routinely uses VideoCD. This gives the company a video quality very close to DVD and the faster access time of standard CD.

"DVD's slow access time is a legitimate problem, and we've expressed this concern to Pioneer," says Steve Lozen, president of Questa. But he says this slowness can be mitigated by skillful programming. "The way you lay down data on the DVD disc can give you faster response," he says. Lozen also feels that this is a problem that will soon go away as manufacturers release new DVD player models. He says that Pioneer's new DVD-V7400 industrial player (which supersedes the 7200) improves search time quite noticeably. Pioneer's Andy Parsons confirms the improvement: "This is due to a change in the search algorithm that allows the player to find other locations more efficiently," Parsons says. According to Lozen, "Users say access is nearly instantaneous with the 7400."

Indeed, even the more cautious among us concede it's all just a matter of time before DVD becomes a significant part of the touchscreen and kiosk world. As Interactive Sales Systems' concedes, "Eventually we'll migrate to DVD. We'll be forced to."


Diff'rent Strokes for Diff'rent Folks
Not Your Everyday Touchscreens

Thanks to the proliferation of touchscreen technologies and touchscreen vendors, there is a touchscreen solution for just about any situation or environment, no matter how specialized or extreme.

TouchVision is among the companies that make touchscreen-based kiosks for extreme conditions. What could be more extreme than placing a monitor outdoors 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, in places like a ski slope in Maine or a desert in Arizona? TouchVision markets a line of outdoor kiosks for public access point-of-information (P.O.I.) systems. The kiosk cabinet is weather-tight and includes a special air conditioner/heater and marine speakers. It uses MicroTouch's ThruGlass, which is a "projected" capacitive technology. The ThruGlass sensor safely resides behind up to an inch of glass. Some people are even placing their kiosk monitor just inside a store window. The touchscreen is then actually attached to the window. Such a system could provide after-hours product information to window shoppers. Outdoor kiosks are also being used as tourism information systems to give lost travelers directions or help them find a motel for the night.

Another unique new touchscreen variant is MicroTouch's CleanScreen antibacterial touchscreen. This is a capacitive system that adds an antibacterial coating to the glass. It uses AEGIS Microbe Shield technology, an antibacterial treatment developed by Dow Corning that is commonly used in disposable diapers and wipes, scrubbing sponges, active wear, socks, and in many other medical and household products. MicroTouch doesn't like to talk about the patent-pending method it uses to get this treatment on its glass overlay, but they insist that the bonding is permanent. According to MicroTouch, this stuff "remains functional virtually for the life of the touchscreen display, and does not migrate to the user's finger or wear off when the screen is cleaned."

MicroTouch has high expectations for this product's success, not only in hospitals and restaurants, but also in many public-access kiosks. Most people don't realize how easily germs can be spread by touch, says MicroTouch's Alice Moran. She says a recent health study of publicly used keyboards at places like the New York Public Library and Kennedy Airport found that all kinds of potentially dangerous organisms linger around keyboards. Moran expects CleanScreen to sell well in Japan, where the population is dense and fastidiousness is part of the culture.


Comparison Shopping

The price list posted on the Web site of touchscreen distributor Mass Multimedia, Inc. allows one to compare prices of the various technologies. Since a CRT's screen curvature makes its actual viewing area smaller than a same-size LCD, in this example, we are comparing 14-inch CRTs to 12.1-inch LCDs. Here are your options and prices reported on the site as of Jan. 12, 2000:

  • Touchscreen Add-on Kit for PC (monitor not included): $179
  • 14-inch desktop CRT monitor w/5-wire resistive touchscreen: $529
  • 14-inch desktop CRT monitor w/capacitive touchscreen: $665
  • 14-inch desktop CRT monitor w/SAW (acoustic wave): $720
  • 12.1-inch LCD monitor w/5-wire resistive touchscreen: $1,079
  • 12.1-inch LCD monitor w/capacitive touchscreen: $1,259

The company doesn't sell LCDs equipped with acoustic wave touchscreens.


Companies Mentioned in This Article

Elo TouchSystems, Inc.
6500 Kaiser Drive, Fremont, CA 94555-3613; 800/356-8684; 650/361-2507; Fax 650/361-5579; eloincfo@elotouch.com; http://www.elotouch.com

Interactive Sales Systems, Inc.
8 John Walsh Boulevard, Suite 125, Peekskill, NY 10566; 800/218-6824; 914/734-7477; Fax 914/734-7725; nkoenig@touchiss.com; http://www.touchiss.com

MicroTouch Systems, Inc.
300 Griffin Brook Park Drive, Methuen, MA 01844; 800/642-7686; 978/659-9000; Fax 978/659-9051; webtouch@microtouch.com; http://www.microtouch.com

Neuro Logic Systems, Inc.
451-C Constitution Avenue, Camarillo, CA 93012; 805/389-5435; Fax 805/389-5436; info@touch-dvd.com; http://www.neuro-logic.com

Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc.
2265 East 220th Street, Long Beach, CA 90810-1639; 310/952-2111; Fax 310/952-2990; http://www.pioneerusa.com

Questa Corporation
312 School Street, Acton, MA 01720; 800/898-5324; 978/264-0810; Fax 978/264-0812; questa@touchman.com; http://www.touchman.com

Sony Electronics, Inc.
3300 Zanker Road, San Jose, CA 95134; 408/955-5068; Fax 408/955-5340; http://www.sel.sony.com

TouchVision
330 Main Street, Suite 201, Seal Beach, CA 90740; 562/626-8200; http://www.touchvision.com


Mark Fritz (makfritz@aol.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is a consultant and freelance writer based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.


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