Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Master of Touch

Jeff Han, the Founder and CTO of Perceptive Pixel, demonstrated once again in his presentation today at the Display Week Investors Conference that he is the Master of Touch. What I mean by that is that Jeff consistently has the clearest vision of how touch needs to evolve to allow professionals to accomplish real work using touch, and he articulates that vision with exceptional clarity. Perceptive Pixel isn’t a touch-screen company – although it does make and sell a high-end 27-inch touch monitor; it's a company dedicated to inventing solutions to user interface problems in the knowledge-worker world.

Presentations at the Investors Conference aren’t frequently reported in Display Week coverage, perhaps because the conference is somewhat specialized and takes place during the first day of exhibits. The conference, which is run by Cowen and Company, the leading growth investment-banking firm focused on the display and touch-screen supply chain, is an excellent venue for learning more about important private and smaller public firms in the sector. This is the 8th time the conference has taken place; there were presentations by nine public and eight private companies.

It’s particularly difficult to describe a Jeff Han presentation because (a) he always presents at lightning speed, (b) he usually makes heavy use of simultaneous video, text and spoken content, and (c) he never gives the audience a copy of his slides. Jeff started his presentation today by making the same point that I made in my Sunday Short Course and Monday Seminar on touch: projected capacitive (p-cap) has won the war. It’s over. A billion users now expect touch to work like p-cap. If another touch technology provides a different user experience, the user is likely to be uncomfortable with it or simply reject it. Jeff believes that the touch industry therefore needs to focus on figuring out how to use p-cap to solve user interface problems beyond simply zooming an image on a smartphone or tablet.

With this goal in mind, Perceptive Pixel has figured out how to scale p-cap to unlimited sizes with no visible electrodes (unlike current large-format p-cap implementations that use visible 10-micron-wire electrodes). Jeff said that even 200 inches is no problem; if there is a display that large, Perceptive Pixel can make a p-cap touchscreen for it. The largest the company has actually demonstrated so far is 82 inches (at CES 2012) because that was the largest display it could easily buy. (This product also just won a 2012 Silver Display Industry Award from SID for Display Application of the Year.) The key elements of Perceptive Pixel's solution are (a) a custom, extremely high-performance p-cap controller re-imagined from the ground up, and (b) a method of applying invisible non-ITO p-cap electrodes on glass. Jeff showed a variety of demo videos of commercial touch applications on screen sizes ranging from a 27-inch reclining desktop monitor to a 20-foot wall of tiled touch-displays. The applications included broadcast-screen manipulation, 3D CAD, manipulation of multi-dimensional oil-well-exploration data sets, and many, many more. The impression this barrage of sophisticated touch applications makes is far beyond anything else I’ve ever seen from any other company in the touch industry. It’s so intense that it’s very difficult to describe.

Jeff ended his presentation with a video demo showing why simultaneous touch and stylus is highly desirable. (His implementation of p-cap, by the way, is capable of this at any size.) The demo showed an artist making changes in a sketch using a stylus in his right hand. The artist’s left hand was sometimes resting on the screen doing nothing (yet not interfering in any way) and sometimes adjusting the perspective of the drawing or making other control-type changes. The transition of the artist’s left hand between resting and active was almost imperceptible – unless the hand was making a specific gesture or touching a control spot, the application ignored it. This is what “ignoring unintended touches” is really all about; this is why Perceptive Pixel’s p-cap controller supports “an infinite number of touches”.

What I saw was both electrifying and frustrating. It was electrifying because the clarity and articulation of Jeff’s vision (and Perceptive Pixel’s execution) of what touch should be is so great that it literally leaves your mouth hanging open. It was frustrating because the only time Jeff’s vision is exposed is at two or three conferences a year. Since he never provides a copy of his slides at those conferences, there’s nothing to remind you later of what you experienced and of his thoughtful insights into the touch industry. I hope we'll hear more in future from the Master of Touch. -—by Geoff Walker, Walker Mobile, LLC

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