Touchpanel Manufacturers Look to the Future

Just a short time ago, touchpanels were feared to be a dying breed as the popularity of mobile devices took hold.
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The 10-inch Modero X touchpanel from AMX has a high definition camera for video chat and conferencing for tabletop and wall landscape models, in addition to NFC technology.Just a short time ago, touchpanels were feared to be a dying breed as the popularity of mobile devices took hold. Some manufacturers ceased producing almost immediately while those company that stayed pat were looked as if they were simply in a bit of denial over how significant the tablet’s hold on consumers would become.

While iPads and other mobile devices have since solidified their dominant position in home technology, there seems to be renewed support for dedicated touchpanels. No one has gone out of business for sticking by their touchpanel offerings; instead, manufacturers have continued to introduce innovative touchpanels, integrating some of the most popular concepts that mobile devices have spearheaded and paving a path for future advancements.

“The future is bright for dedicated handheld and in-wall touchpanel controllers for one simple reason, they offer end-users a better overall control experience. In addition to instant control and tactile buttons, you’re seeing sleek designs and innovative features to compete with mobile products,” said Pete Baker, VP of sales and marketing, RTI. “Controllers have built-in web browsing, screen swiping capability, and even accelerometers for movement control. In-wall controllers offer even more powerful capabilities with things like direct IR/RS- 232 control, proximity sensors, component video input, and of course–the most important feature of all–they’re always on and always there when you need them.”

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Control4 has expanded its video intercom solutions with a 7-inch in-wall touchscreen with camera, a sleek, capacitive touchscreen that mounts on the wall.The KX7 in-wall color LCD touchpanel from RTI sports a 7-inch, 800x480 WVGA multitouch capacitive touchscreen. The unit’s control interface is fully customizable via RTI’s Integration Designer software. The KX7 also supports composite, S-video, or component video. Wired 10/100 Base-T and wireless 802.11 ethernet connections provide two-way control and feedback, access to web pages, video from network security cameras, and convenient programming.

A high-output IR port provides direct control of multiple devices from up to 1,000 feet away, while a two-way RS-232 port runs RTI’s one-way and two-way control drivers without the need for a separate control processor.

Touchpanels Sales Grow with App Popularity

Control4 has also doubled down on consumers’ evident commitment to dedicated touchpanels. “The number of mobile device apps installed continues to grow at a significant pace. At the same time, our touchscreen sales continue to grow,” said Paul Williams, VP of security and communication experiences, Control4. “What we are seeing is that customers want both dedicated touchscreens and mobile options.”

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HAI by Leviton’s OmniTouch 5.7e not only controls all of the sub-systems in the home, but also facilitates VoIP for security intercom communication.One area where the dedicated touchpanel is vital is in security applications, and Control4 has expanded its video intercom solutions with a sleek 7-inch in-wall capacitive touchscreen with camera. It supports Wireless-N and Ethernet connectivity, and is powered either by Power over Ethernet (PoE) or AC power options. The touchscreen enables seamless video-intercom interoperability with other Control4 video intercom-capable products, and audio intercom compatibility with the current 5-inch and 7-inch in-wall touchscreens.

HAI by Leviton’s OmniTouch 5.7e not only controls all of the sub-systems in the home, but also facilitates VoIP for security intercom communication. The touchpanel can correspond with other 5.7e’s or a connectivity partner’s door station and see live video feeds of guests and deactivate gates by holding a button. Other features include adjustable autoanswer, do-not-disturb mode, and speaker/microphone volumes.

Refining the Design

Other solutions like the OmniTouch 5.7e are in the works. “HAI by Leviton’s engineers are busy imagining and creating several next-generation touchscreens at this moment, and we can’t wait to refine and release them,” said Greg Rhoades, director of marketing, HAI by Leviton. “The screen clarity is magnificent, the response time and processing power are excellent, and the GUI is receiving special attention as well. Just like our original screens and the more recent generations, we still envision a simple to use item that can be customized and packs in as much integration as possible.”

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The 5-inch and 10-inch TSW collection from Crestron features high-resolution graphics, capacitive touchscreen, edge-to-edge glass, Core 3 UI graphics, and H.264 streaming video.An intercom-equipped touchscreen was introduce by Crestron at CEDIA EXPO 2012, the 5-inch and 10-inch TSW collection features high-resolution graphics, capacitive touchscreen, edge-to-edge glass, Core 3 UI graphics, and H.264 streaming video. Rava SIP Intercom technology adds full duplex intercom, VoIP telephone between Crestron devices and third-party door stations–no SIP server necessary, and group paging capabilities.

While not currently featuring near-field communications (NFC), the next-gen hot tech trend for personalizing data experiences did pop up at Crestron’s CEDIA EXPO booth, so the groundwork has been laid for this as a next step. “From the software side of things, we see touchscreens becoming more personal,” said John Pavlik, Crestron, director, architecture and design. “Devices will automatically detect their user and preferences will be remembered.”

Becoming Less Obtrusive

The edge-to-edge glass and ultra-thin aspects of Crestron’s TSW point to another trend to watch for in future touchpanel releases.

“On the design side, the obvious trends are thinner, faster, cheaper, packed with more features, while becoming even easier for the end user to operate. But down the road, we see the touchscreen becoming less ‘obvious’ in an install,” Nic Scott, Crestron, solutions marketing manager, control systems, user interfaces, software. “Imagine a clear piece of glass that lights up when the user starts to engage. A completely natural extension of human interaction: 3D video space with multi-touch and multi-plane capabilities, along with voice recognition and a personalized experience.”

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(Above) The KX7 in-wall color LCD touchpanel from RTI sports a 7-inch, 800x480 WVGA multi-touch capacitive touchscreen. (Left) URC’s latest offering in the touchpanel category, the TKP-7000, unveiled at CEDIA, offers full graphic feedback from both URC devices and those from a compatible third-party.AMX has introduced the smaller, widescreen 7- and 10-inch Modero X touchpanels designed specifically to incorporate multi-touch gesturing, swiping, and tapping that mobile devices have led consumers to expect in their gadgets. Other features include high-definition video streaming, Bluetooth VoIP, and USB external phone connections. The 10-inch has a high definition camera for video chat and conferencing for tabletop and wall landscape models. Modero X touchpanels support NFC’s personalized technology.

“New technologies have already enabled AMX to better shape our touchpanel products to meet the user’s needs–custom panoramic form factor, multitouch, and gesture-based interfaces. The important factor with these technologies is that technology itself is becoming more and more transparent to the user,” Shaun Robinson, AMX vice president of product management. “Expect to see panels that are a seamless part of the room and interact more intuitively with the user than ever before.”

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The latest touchpanel from ELAN, the VL10 Valet, features a 16:9 widescreen format, builtin speaker, and microphone for messaging, IP connectivity, non-volatile flash memory, and a customizable screen saver mode to display users images when not in use.

“Native touchpanels must evolve and offer features and capabilities compelling enough to make an end user invest in task specific devices,” said ELAN brand manager Robert Ridenour. “One important factor in retaining and growing touchpanel sales is delivering a superior user experience that is identical across all devices. This helps end users recognize the convenience and always-on benefits offered by proprietary interfaces that smartphones and tablets can’t match.”

All of ELAN’s g! interfaces have a uniform look and feel to promote this consistent user experience, even on the g! mobile apps.

Intuitive and Seamless

Since experiencing a surge in demand for the first model of its upcoming line of LCD keypads, Vantage has made the Equinox 4 keypad available for pre-order, with shipping scheduled for late November. Equinox 4 provides the first glimpse of Vantage’s new “user experience platform,” unifying physical and graphical aesthetics to be consistent across all control devices in a Vantage system. The single-gang LCD keypad senses presence and “wakes up” with a gesture. The Vantage station bus connection is compatible with existing InFusion station bus-based systems and Vantage’s new Enhanced InFusion lighting solution.

“From our standpoint, the touchpanel category is going to live side by side with controls apps on smartphones and tablets,” said Andrew Wale, VP marketing, Vantage Controls. “Our goal is to simplify and unify through straightforward design interfaces that are easily replicated on touchscreens and apps. The key to a positive user experience is a consistent, easy-to-manage interface, no matter if they are using a touchpanel or smartphone. The process should be seamless.”

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Equinox 4 provides the first glimpse of Vantage’s new “user experience platform,” unifying physical and graphical aesthetics to be consistent across all control devices in a
Vantage system.
Lutron has added new features to its HomeWorks QS dynamic keypad, a 4.2-inch capacitive touch interface for controlling lights, shades, temperature, and AV. The AV user interface was added for intuitive control of third-party AV devices, including a whole home audio system. Temperature control was also added to the HomeWorks QS system, and homeowners can adjust the temperature from the keypad.

URC’s latest offering in the touchpanel category, the TKP-7000, unveiled at CEDIA, offers full graphic feedback from both URC devices and those from a compatible thirdparty. When combined with URC cameras, the seven-inch, full color graphical screen can display live video for security monitoring. With PoE connectivity, the TKP-7000 supports up to 255 devices, 255 pages per device, and macros up to 255 steps. Other features include a shortcuts pop-up, customizable status bar, rooms menu, capacitive touch for “swipe” and “flick” navigation, as well as time and weather modules.

“The next generation of touchpanels is likely to have interactive voice control, a la Siri, yet continue to function as graphical displays, as they do today, providing content and content choice, such as music services and lists, cable channels, movie choices, rooms for selecting, and live video from cameras,” said Cat Toomey, director of marketing, URC.

Toomey also predicted that browsing will become aided by voice prompts as recognition technologies improve. “This is a reality for Apple now, and we saw a touch of this at CEDIA EXPO 2012,” she said. “However, it is still early for the consumer electronics industry, and this feature is generally more frustrating than useful at this time. As we have seen from many technologies over the years, voice will become perfected in a way that it will enhance parts of the user experience. As the masses continue to use it on devices such as phones, it will continuously improve, and the benefits will become deployed in the CE world.”

Lindsey Adler is associate editor for Residential Systems, System Contractor News, and Healthcare AV.

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