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Buying a Touchscreen for Windows 8, Episode 1

OK, so I’m getting onboard for an upcoming “day and date” book on Windows 8 (this means we have to have the book finished far enough in advance of the ship date for Windows 8 that it can be sent to bookstores to arrive in time to be stocked and waiting the day the OS goes into general availability, or GA status). That means I’m starting to dig down into the tools and technology so my co-author and I can get our systems and our acts together to exercise and document its functionality while waiting pensively for the release of the “consumer preview” or “beta release” of Windows 8 that’s due out later this month.

First up in Newegg 19-24 inch touchscreens

First up in Newegg 19-24 inch touchscreens

This means I’ve ordered a new-generation Intel-based system (with SLAT and UEFI) to host the new OS, and am looking at my options for touchscreens to enable the touch-based Metro interface to do its thing properly on my test machines. I’m also reaching out to various PC manufacturers to lay hands on their all-in-one (touch-based) systems, because I’m learning that the aftermarket for touchscreen monitors starts pretty expensive ($340 -$620 for a 15″ touchscreen monitor, $508-697 for 17″, $549-980 for 19″, and so forth) and is full of “interesting deals” such as an Acer 23″ HD resolution touchscreen for only $329.

Second Newegg item for 19-24 inch touchscreens

Second Newegg item for 19-24 inch touchscreems

A great place to check out what’s available (and the number and range of offerings have exploded since the last time I checked on this in December, 2011, so the market’s obviously getting ready for Windows 8 ) is at Newegg, where they actually have a product category called “Touchscreen monitors.” Here, you can filter those monitors by size (under 15″ (3 total), 15-17″ (55 total), 19-24″ (29), 26-42″ (8), and over 42″ (1)), price, manufacturer, and even by type: 5-wire resistive, AccuTouch, Acoustic Pulse, Capacitive, CarrolTouch, and IntelliTouch [see Note 3 at the end of this blog posting for comments on this terminology; taken straight from the Newegg touch monitors listings, it includes numerous trade names and isn’t really descriptive of the touch technology landscape. This will be my one and only use of these terms].

Item 3 in the Newegg 19-24 inch touchscreens

Item 3 in the Newegg 19-24 inch touchscreens

At this point, I can see I will have lots of options from which to choose. I now understand I need to learn more about the types of touch technology and how best to integrate touch into a desktop system for easy access and use. I’ll keep you posted as I zero in on some good choices and let you know about such deals as I can find. I can’t be the only person who needs to figure this stuff out! I’m also casting about for hardware recommendations and war stories in making touchscreen monitors work with Windows 8, so please let me know if you know of or have any to share!

New Material Added on 2/9/2012
Since this blog originally posted on 2/6/2012, I have been in repeated contact with Geoff Walker, of Walker Mobile at He’s a long-time expert and full-time consultant and writer on mobile computing with a particular emphasis on touch technologies. Check out his Website, where you’ll find a wealth of valuable and informative materials on touch technologies of all kinds. Geoff has also been a guest editor on Touch Technology for Information Display magazine since 2007 (where a search on his name produces over 500 hits), and has contributed numerous stories on touch to other industry publications as well. Geoff has very kindly provided copious feedback for both Episodes 1 and 2 of this blog posting, and I will now recast his remarks here in somewhat abbreviated form, in the form of a series of numbered Notes to follow. They are primarily quoted verbatim or merely shortened in the interests of brevity; where I provide pricing or other information, it’s in square brackets to identify my presence, not Geoff’s.

Note 1: The best touch monitor in the world today comes from Perceptive Pixel: though expensive, it’s without question the very best [$6,000.00!]. The next best is from 3M [around $1,400.00]. The touch performance is phenomenal, as good as Perceptive Pixel, just smaller with a few more limitations. It’s not as expensive as the Perceptive Pixel, but it’s not cheap.

Note 2: In the Newegg listing, the Acer T231 bmid is a typical consumer-level Win7 touch monitor.  It uses camera-based optical touch (2 cameras) from Quanta.  It’s limited to two not-very-robust touches (in other words, it barely works on Win7, much less Win8 – read my article on optical touch and you’ll get some hints of why that is).  But it’s still a very valid test platform, since almost all of the consumer multi-touch monitors sold for the past two years have used a similar touch system, and all those owners will want to know what to expect when upgrading to Win8.  Note that there is NO information  whatsoever in the Acer specs about touch!  That’s a big red flag, indicating that touch is not something that Acer (or any of the PC OEMs) really cares that much about.  Compare Acer’s lack of touch specs with the touch specs of the other monitors I’ve mentioned so far – big difference!  The HP L2105tm and the Viewsonic VX2258wm are basically the same as the Acer – all of their touchscreens are camera-based optical from either Quanta or NextWindow.

Note that what I’m saying is that there are NO monitors in the Newegg list that are capable of meeting the Win8 5-touch specification because doing that requires either (a) projected capacitive, which is too expensive for a consumer monitor today, or (b) improved camera-based optical (with at least six cameras), which won’t be ready for another six months or so. [The emphasis on NO in the preceding text is Geoff’s.]

Note 3: [About these terms “…5-wire resistive, AccuTouch, Acoustic Pulse, Capacitive, CarrolTouch, and IntelliTouch”   (these appear in my original blog, and came straight from the Touchscreen Types category on the Newegg Touchscreen Monitors page).] I strongly recommend that you stop using the Elo brand names for generic touch technologies.  It’s confusing to everyone and does nobody any good.  Even Elo would like to get rid of them, but it’s very hard to change that kind of thing once you start.  Use only the generic technology names, and use them consistently. [Will do, Geoff, and thanks for pointing this out! Fortunately, that was already the case by the time I got to Episode 2.]

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Am considering getting a touch monitor to plug into my notebook to do Win8 Metro development (in C#) to provide more real estate than doing the development on my Slate Series 7. (Have a 6-month to 2-year project starting soon for apps that will run on tablets.) Don't have a big budget...looking at the HP L2105tm. Your post has me concerned that this plan won't work. (Maybe it would work for basic functionality, but not more complex swiping.) Concerns about using a desktop monitor for development include whether I'll really get a sense of how things will look/work on the tablet and whether there is a way to display/test portrait templates. Thanks.
Dear Gleapman: Most of the current crop of touch panels (except for the latest generation from 3M or those from Perceptive Pixel, where the former cost $1000 to $1,500 a pop, and the latter start at $6,000 and up) do not meet the Windows 8 touch logo requirements for a minimum of 5 simultaneous touch points (and the MS APIs support a maximum of 50 simultaneous touch points, probably to support group interaction on a single screen). 3M has graciously agreed to loan me one of their new units, as they are still quite difficult to find for sale. The Perceptive Pixel stuff is priced pretty much out of reach to anyone whose work is not highly valuable and who absolutely requires a multi-touch/gestural interface (common apps include analyzing medical scans -- x-ray, MRI, CAT scan, PET scan, and so forth, or interactive high-speed stock and market trades). Geoff Walker says you can get a decent sense of how basic touch works from the current crop of Windows 7 touch-enabled monitors/displays, but that you won't be able to use complex multi-touch gestures that require 3 or more simultaneous touch points. The cheapest of the 3M units (which support 20 simultaneous touch points) is their 19.5" model, which will probably retail for $1,000 or $1,100. I leave it to you decide if that's worth the added capability. For a developer, if you want to use multi-touch with more than 2 touch points, I'd say it was an absolute necessity myself. HTH, --Ed--
Thanks Ed. The first phase of the project will use only basic touch functionality - radio buttons, dropdown lists, swiping and split screen - so I may be okay. I'm guessing I can programmatically switch to the portrait templates for testing...I'll try that on my notebook before making a final decision on the monitor. From your speculation about what might be hitting the market as the Windows 8 release date approaches, I guess it comes down to the standard technology shopping question of now or later. Jon
Yes, Gleapman: you are correct. Is is a buy-now vs. buy-later proposition, where (as usual) you get more features but no interim use by waiting. Good luck with your project. --Ed--