Touch Screen Computer

Touch Screen Computer


July 29, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

by Erica Ogg

When Windows 7 is unleashed thisfall with more gesture-recognition built directly into theoperating system, more PC makers are planning on takingadvantage.

While touch-screen desktops are gaining popularity, therehaven't been many consumer-friendly touch-screen notebooks yet. Butthat will change soon. Last week Sony said it plans to release atouch-screen Vaio notebook this fall, and Hewlett-Packard and Asusdid so earlier this year.

But the question is whether there's a need for touch screenswhen it comes to portables like notebooks. Adding touch todesktops, like HP, Dell, Asus, and others have done, appears to begaining some momentum and boosting the faltering desktop market.

The first time
If a Vaio touch-screen notebook were to strike a chord withconsumers, it would be the first time. There have been plenty oftouch-screen notebooks that convert into tablets released over theyears, and almost all of them have been purchased by the ITdepartments of large companies, police departments, the military,and more recently, hospitals.

There are several reasons they haven't really taken off withconsumers: they're very expensive, heavy, and there's a dearth ofgood consumer software with touch applications.

Last year, according to IDC, just 1 percent of the notebookmarket, or 1.4 million units, were touch-screen notebooks. By theend of this year it will actually shrink to .6 percent, and by2010, be at .7 percent. That means IDC isn't expecting Windows 7 todrastically alter the landscape of the touch-screen notebookmarket.

So why is this idea being revived? History doesn't suggestconsumers will flock to this, though touch screens are far morepopular in smaller devices like smartphones and portable mediaplayers now. It's feasible that the success of theiPhone and the G1could translate to a computing experience that requires two handsand a physical keyboard.

What could be going on is just some experimentation, or"toe-dipping," as IDC analyst Richard Shim put it. And while itcould be handy for some applications, like just pressing a playbutton on screen for music or video, there's just not a lot ofsoftware out there yet to make it worth the extra cost.

"You can see some apps that could be convenient, but I thinkright now there isn't enough software to really create aflourishing touch-screen market, let alone touch-screen notebooks,"Shim said. Desktops make sense because they're much larger andstationary, and are being used moreas communal PCs. "With notebooks it's a morepersonal device...and if you have a touch pad sitting there (nearthey keyboard), why wouldn't you use it?" Plus, there's that peskyhabit you have to break yourself of: the instinct not to touch yourscreen.

So, herewith are some of the variations that PC makers havealready come up with, with varying degrees of success.

NEC Versa LitePad(Credit: CNET)

NEC Versa LitePad
The first crop of slate-style tablet PCs released in 2002 fromFujitsu, Motion Computing, and ViewSonic--despite being trulyflat--were too big and heavy to represent any real break from thetried-and-true notebook design. But the NEC Versa LitePad reallylooked like a pad of paper with PC functionality. In fact, theLitePad is almost identical in size to a small spiral-boundnotebook and weighed only 2.2 pounds, but it cost $2,399 when itwas released in 2003.

HP trimode tablet PC

HP Compaq Tablet PCTC1000
The HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 squeezed three computers into oneback in 2002. It was a small, light, slate-style tablet PC, with agreat stylus, but it also had a snap-on keyboard to make it athin-and-light notebook. Unfortunately, the battery life was justthree hours. But it also came with a dock so it could transforminto a desktop as well. It started at $1,699, but was mostly meantfor enterprise customers.

Panasonic Toughbook 29(Credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic Toughbook 29
Another twist on the touch screen in a notebook came from with theidea of a detachable touch screen. The Panasonic Toughbook 29 camewith the option of a separate, portable touch screen that could beused up to 300 feet away. Panasonic's fully rugged line ofToughbooks are designed to take some spectacular abuse at the handsof military, construction foremen, public utility employees, andeven consumers. But they never gained a foothold with regularfolks.

HP Touchmart TX2(Credit: Hewlett-Packard)

HP Touchsmart TX2
HP released the first made-for-consumers multitouch notebook latelast year, but it hasn't made any sort of dent in the popularity oftouch screens. It's a 12.1-inch convertible tablet that has theiPhone-like ability to scroll, zoom, flick, and drag and drop byusing your fingers on the screen. It does have a more reasonableprice tag below $1,200.

Asus Eee PC T91
A Netbook and convertible tablet, the touch-screen Eee PC could bethe future of touch-screen PCs.

Asus Eee PC T91(Credit: Asus)

Just recently released, the T91 has a custom interface, whichoffers big finger-friendly icons for launching apps. And, despitethe new hardware and software, Asus kept the price low at $499. Theprice--and easy portability--will be key in convincing consumers tobuy into touch screens.

We've so far left out the biggest X-factor when it comes toconsumer computing: Apple. The company has been rumored to be launching a touch-screen tablet computer either this September or early next year. With a sharp focus on consumer appeal and trends, Apple has a history of creating market share where it was mostly nonexistent before, such as with the iPod. A full-size Apple tablet, if done well, could stimulate a lot of interest in this category.

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP,Dell and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronicsindustry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast.In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan,and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

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