iPhone, iPad lead the way to booming sales of touchscreen chips

by David Needle

March 28 2012

Sales of the chips behind touchscreen displays are booming. (Photo: Motion Computing)
Sales of the chips behind touchscreen displays are booming. (Photo: Motion Computing)

The late Carl Sagan used to talk about “billions and billions” of stars to explain the vastness of the universe, now sales of chips used to make touchscreen displays in smartphones and tablets are fast-approaching the multi-billion mark as well.

A new research report credits Apple’s iPhone and iPad for driving shipments of touchscreen displays to unprecedented levels. IHS iSuppli says shipments of touch controller ICs (integrated circuits) are on track to reach 2.4 billion units in 2015. That’s up from 865 million in 2010 the year the first iPad shipped. 

“Apple almost single-handedly ignited the market for touch in 2007 when it introduced the iPhone, which featured a multi-touch screen based on a projected capacitive touch technology,” said Randy Lawson, principal analyst for display & consumer electronics at IHS. “Since the appearance of the iPhone, many other smartphone manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon by deploying sophisticated touch sensors for their products.”

Since the iPhone, touch sensors are being built into a wide variety of products including tablets, ereaders, all-in one PCs, portable media players, portable navigation devices, flat-panel TVs and monitors, handheld video game players, automotive applications, digital still cameras and digital picture frames. 

Capacitive touch screens, like those first used by Apple in its various iDevices, made up 54% of the touch market in 2011. IHS says capacitive touchscreens are set to lead the market for years to come, ahead of other touch-sensor technologies like infrared, optical, resistive and surface acoustic wave. Capacitive touchscreens respond to materials that are conducive, such as a human finger, but not a stylus unless it’s tipped with some kind of conductive material. Resistive touchscreens respond to both finger and stylus input. 

IHS expects mobile devices, especially smartphones and media tablets, to be the leading implementation of touch solutions and touch-related ICs. Both applications will account for a combined 61%of the touch controller market in 2011, and continue rising to more than 71% of the total touch IC market by 2015.

All told, IHS says the number of devices and appliances using some form of touch controller IC is predicted to hit 1.06 billion units this year, nearly double from 514.9 million units only two years ago.

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