"Although the technology is great, it is no longer everything," said Steve Sedaker, director of component sales at Wacom's UI Solutions division. "People are more interested in experiences."
Wacom is definitely in the pen camp. Sedaker believes that the pen needs to complement the finger when interfacing with tablets: "The pen is natural to most people, provides accuracy for precise and detailed operation and is efficient in content creation."
The touchpad interface seems to be divided between touch panels in tablets that for the most part consume content and those that are used for creating content. A tablet like a iPad is content consumer while a tablet like Wacom's Intuos4, with its near-zero starting pressure pen, is for content creators, whether they be consumers or professional.
"No touch screen technology is perfect," said Jennifer Colgrove, director of display technologies at DisplaySearch. "There are over a dozen touch screen technologies and more than 190 touch screen suppliers worldwide."
Over 90 companies manufacture resistive type touch screens, while some 56 suppliers produced projected capacitive touch screens in 2009, and more in 2010.
Some companies supply one technology, while others supply multiple, such as Elo/Tyco Electronics, 3M and Touch International. Many companies are also pursuing multi-touch capability, according to Colgrove.
Touch screen shipments have reached over 600 million units in 2009 (from 468 million in 2008), a 29 percent growth year-to-year. Touch screen module revenue was about $3.6 billion in 2008, and this increased to $4.3 billion in 2009. DisplaySearch forecasts that touch screen module revenue will reach $13 billion by 2016.
In mobile phones, DisplaySearch reported touch penetration was 15.8 percent in 2008, rose to 25.7 percent in 2009, and is predicted to increase to 57 percent in 2016.
Christophe Ramstein, chief technology officer of Immersion Corp., likes to quote novelist and poet Margaret Atwood to make his point about the need for haptic touch (touch feedback) as a key element for guaranteeing a pleasant user experience: "Touch comes before sight, and before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth."
Immersion develops systems and technology for integrating touch feedback into their licensees' products. The company this week announced that a leading Italian manufacturer of medical devices for minimally invasive surgery has obtained a license to Immersion's TouchSense haptics technology for use in its ALF-X (advanced laparoscopy through force reflection) telesurgical robot system.
TouchSense will provide haptic feedback in the cockpit/console from which surgeons control and manipulate the system, engaging the sense of touch to assist in device navigation and laparoscopic procedures. The license represents momentum for Immersion in the growing robotics surgery market.
"Sofar clearly understands the value of touch feedback in live surgery; our TouchSense technology bridges that distance [between surgeon and patient] and provides the tactile cues that inform a surgeon, ultimately improving procedure quality and resulting in optimum patient care," said Craig Vachon, senior vice president at Immersion.
A market that initially reached $1 billion in 2008, surgical robotics equipment is forecasted to reach $14 billion by 2014, according to market research firm Piribo.