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Author Topic:   Touch Screen Technology
jimh posted 10-22-2011 11:00 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Unless you have been asleep for twenty years a la Rip Van Winkle, you certainly must be aware of the shift in user interface to touch screen technology from dedicated push buttons and other devices. This trend was likely accelerated by the Apple technology of the iPhone and the iPad, and touch-screen interfaces are now very much standard in mobile devices. The same trend seems to be occurring in marine electronics.

One of the benefits of touch screen interfaces is the elimination of many other hardware devices for user input. In particular for marine devices where some waterproof or water-resistant method must be used, eliminating front panel buttons can save money. Instead of ten buttons, you can use the display screen. That saves the cost of ten water-tight switches, fabricating holes for them in a panel, wiring them onto a circuit board, and so on. Instead you just use the display as the input.

A further benefit is the ability to alter the functionality in software. If you decide that you want to add a new button, you can easily add it to the display screen and create a new function. You cannot do that with mechanical switches and dedicated inputs.

I have often thought that the most expensive element of marine electronic devices would be the display, and now that we need a touch sensitive display that would be even more true. However, it appears that manufacturing innovation and volume production in touch sensitive displays has reduced their costs dramatically. For example, I recently received a news release touting a 7-inch wide-screen color display with full touch screen sensitivity that was offered at OEM volume pricing for $20. This is an amazing price point for such a wonderful technology.

With touch screen technology in such high-volume and low-cost production, I think it is soon going to be--or perhaps already is--at the point where it will be less expensive to produce a product with a touch screen interface than with dedicated input buttons and controls.

I am not naive, and I expect that very high brightness displays with water resistant screens are going to be more expensive than $20, but that notion that we are starting from a base price of $20 still astounds me.

Once hardware and system software designers become acquainted with touch screen technology its cost to implement will also decrease. There will be fewer components, fewer sub-assemblies, and less connecting cables. Once you are up to speed with touch screen control interfaces, the cost of adding or changing a feature will be tiny--just a new software release or patch will be needed.

Based on the economy possible with touch screen interfaces, I expect we are going to see more of them in marine electronics and also more at the entry level price points.

kwik_wurk posted 10-22-2011 04:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for kwik_wurk  Send Email to kwik_wurk     
Personally I can't stand touch screens in a marine environment. I have always avoided them when by new hardware for my boats.

Specifically because a touch screen gets dirty quickly, trying to discern radar echo's and little details is a pain, and nothing smears a screen more than saltwater and fish slim. (And I have seen diesel or some cleaning agent completely scare a touch screen.)

(Not to mention they don't work well with wet hands.)

Yes, the COG's can drive take the cost down, but a regular 7" XVGA screen is dirt cheap too. But my guess is the other 99% of the marine market will drive what the major manufactures decide. (WiFi/blue-tooth enabled units are the future.)

SC Joe posted 10-22-2011 05:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for SC Joe  Send Email to SC Joe     
Having recently heard the CEO of VMware discuss their plans on building a hypervisor to accomodate open source cell phone style OS's (like Android), I wonder if this growing application market will affect the marine GPS enviromnent? We've seen it with navionix aps on the Ipad, but I am thinking more purpose built units touch screen and "light" os's. As we all know, the Android operating system is made to be interfaced using swipe style keystrokes and touch screen technology.

I find myself often trying to "enlarge" the screen contenst on my vehicle GPS using my thumb and forefinger.

Chriscz posted 10-22-2011 11:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chriscz  Send Email to Chriscz     
In reading some reviews on new computers, i came across some statements that the cost point of many of the all-in-one computers (which feature touch screens) has come down significantly because of a alrge supply of touch screen manufacturng in china. Not sure of the relationship of this tidbit to the cost observations noted by jimh, but given the direction many platforms are going, it's likely that touch screens are going to continue to gain momentum.
I also agree with kwik_wurk that a wet, salty and or fishy environment is tough on a screen. Of course that in turn fuels the market for screen protective films and the like.
The intuitive nature and all the points jimh makes about watertight openings, swiches, software design still point to increases in this arena.
Of course the next step is already here with voice recognition like what the new iPhone offers with 'Siri'.
"Raymarine unit....locate ship". "calculate distance to radar echo 1"
"at what depth are the most fish located"
Basshole posted 10-23-2011 01:14 AM ET (US)     Profile for Basshole  Send Email to Basshole     
As some of the previous posters mentioned, touch screens don't seem all that practical for a marine application, given the moist environment. I have a Droid phone and get frustrated sometimes when I push the screen to do something and it does the wrong thing, such as dial the wrong person. I also don't see it as being that useful unless a keyboard function is necessary, like a tablet (which companies like Fujitsu have had long before Apple came out with anything with a touch screen). Now, if they get good enough to the point where all the flaws are worked out then I might be more open to the idea. As for my current electronics, I am happy with the fact that I can navigate thru all the different menu options with just a few buttons. Maybe, a hybridized version where you can still use buttons primarily as well as the touch screen would be a good way to implement this technology. For instance, touching the screen in GPS mode to mark a way point or new destination could be useful, or using your finger move a cursor around on a chart could be cool, instead of the arrow buttons we have to use now. As long as it's reliable and works consistently.
davej14 posted 10-23-2011 01:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for davej14  Send Email to davej14     
The development of projected capacitance touch screens has greatly increased the market size for touch screen technology. Previously using resistive touch technology, the outer layer of the display was an applied plastic film. This was easily scratched. With projected capacitance we have a topside surface of glass which is much more durable and still can react to a gloved hand. I expect this to become more prevalent on flat panel displays where operator input is needed.
SC Joe posted 10-23-2011 04:50 PM ET (US)     Profile for SC Joe  Send Email to SC Joe     
Restaurants and bars have used touch screens for decades; I can't imagine a much nastier environment than a kitchen or use as a cash register.
contender posted 10-23-2011 10:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for contender  Send Email to contender     
I had a touch screen Loran/Fish Finder/Compass/Coarse Plotter more than 20 years ago...Impulse 4040... way ahead of its time.
divtruk posted 10-23-2011 10:50 PM ET (US)     Profile for divtruk  Send Email to divtruk     
In a decent swell or chop I would think a physical button would be easier to use than a touch screen. Any bouncing around would have you all over the screen.
sosmerc posted 10-26-2011 11:37 PM ET (US)     Profile for sosmerc  Send Email to sosmerc     
I had my reservations about touch screens as well........but recently took the plunge and bought a Garmin 640. We recently used it on a long trip through California and I was totally impressed and satified at how easily it worked. It also is designed for marine use and I had a chance to try it out on the water the other day. Again, it was very easy to read and use and I will be installing it in a flushmount system in the dash of my 15 Whaler. I can easily remove it and resume using it in my vehicle whenever I want. I can't imagine going back to a unit like my previous Garmin that had buttons.
I use a Windows laptop in my shop and scrolling around using the touchpad when working with my diagnostic program is a pain. I think a touchscreen would be much easier....and yes, one has to keep their hands clean and big deal in a clean, dry shop.

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