28.08.18

Touchscreens become intelligent displays

NovoTouch touchscreen

Touch has become a ubiquitous interface for AV devices, which is now driving increased demand for larger touchscreens in the corporate sector. Steve Montgomery investigates.

As people become ever more familiar with touch interfaces on their personal devices, shopping centre information displays, in education and on public wayfinding screens, it is hardly surprising that they expect to find them in corporate environments.  Investment in touch technology by business users has been increasing for some time and they are now demanding interactive touchscreens from suppliers unprompted.  This is in contrast to the situation a few years ago, when adopters of interactive displays needed to be convinced by forward-looking dealers and integrators. 

“Organisations no longer have to be given reasons why interactive displays can be transformational in regard to collaboration and productivity for their business,” says Remmelt van der Woude, UK head of market development, CTouch. “The ability to interact with laptops, tablets, phones and displays is expected, whether you are a consumer or a commercial organisation.”

Mark Mason, Avocor agrees with this sentiment: “There has been a shift within the corporate sector as organisations become increasingly aware of the benefits of interactive collaborative technology in helping improve communication and engagement.  They are rapidly turning to technology to unify on-site and remote employees and to facilitate group collaboration for problem solving and brainstorming sessions.  Innovative businesses are using technology as part of their smart office solution, to attract and retain talent, boost innovation and improve levels of productivity.  They are also extending this type of communication outside their businesses to reach customers and clients.”

DISPLAX touchscreen

There are many reasons for this shift, David Zrihen, Vivitek’s sales director EMEA, believes that: “The primary driver is the fact that most of us are using mobile phones and tablet devices.  We are very familiar with handling files and objects with the swipe of the finger, as well as the zoom-in, zoom-out pinch functionality. The second driver is that a lot of major manufacturers have evangelised interactive technology by releasing touch-enabled software applications built to interact on touchscreens.  And they continue to do so with new products and promotion.”

Microsoft, Samsung, Cisco, Dell and Google are amongst those major names that have helped create an entirely new category in the intelligent interactive display category: the collaborative display.  Sales of these products are booming.  According to Futuresource, compound annual growth between 2013 and 2017 was 48%.  Display sizes are increasing, with the majority of sales of screens now over 70 inches.  Colin Messenger, Futuresource senior analyst: "These providers are leveraging their existing channel and user relationships and promoting all-in-one meeting room solutions.”  Even with this impressive growth rate, there is still enormous scope.  “Corporate sales increased by over 30% in 2017, but this market remains largely untapped.  The scale of the opportunity is vast, with less than one million displays installed to date in corporate meeting rooms and penetration at a very low level.”

Large touch-sensitive interactive screens were originally developed to replace projectors on whiteboards in the education market and have since become a product in their own right.  They are rapidly spreading to the corporate environment.  However business users have different requirements and devices need to be designed specifically for that sector.  Mason: “For brands to succeed in this space, they need to present propositions that are tailored to the needs of the corporate market, rather than a display developed for the education market that has simply been modified in minor ways for corporate applications.   

One of the major differences lies in the security procedures adopted by the different sectors.  Whilst security is of paramount importance to both, businesses tend to rely on networking as a fundamental element of their infrastructure and generally will have developed strict procedures to control connection to it.  This is summarised by van der Woude: “There are fundamental differences between business and educational users. On the whole, large corporates have stricter security procedures than the education sector.  This makes Android based solutions less suitable for the corporate environment.  Business users demand that equipment is compliant with the IT standards of the company. They will manage interactive devices just as they do any other IT device.”

Avocor

Another difference lies in the choice of applications used.  Educational establishments can, and do, take advantage of a wide range of third party software applications that help deliver education, many of which have been designed specifically to meet educational standards.  This means that they need intelligent displays able to run their chosen applications; whichever platform they need.

From the user viewpoint, large interactive displays represent a considerable investment.  Continually re-investing in a never-ending process of uprating their display portfolio with next generation devices is not something facilities managers welcome.  Dan Compton, AV service manager at Tate chose Clevertouch displays after evaluating the market.  “Interactive displays are going through a technical evolution at the moment which has not yet settled in the same way that computing equipment has,” he says.  “There is currently acceleration in expectation among users brought about primarily by the growth in capability of interactive personal devices.  We hope to have addressed the issue of obsolescence to some extent by selecting interactive screens that include processing boards on OPS cards loaded with the Android operating system that are capable of running ready-available applications.  Although we purchased displays to meet a particular business requirement it was clear that this technology gives us additional benefits over and above the original specification, so can be redeployed in the future for other projects.  It is a lot more economic to replace an OPS processor board than a whole display when Moore’s Law kicks in.”

Business users need interactive display solutions that fit into their established workflows - devices that help deliver the business software tools they have already integrated into their own environments and that their staff is familiar with.  Microsoft has the leading position in this market.  Mason: “with over one billion users of Microsoft software world-wide, the vast majority of corporate clients request the ability to use Office 365 software on their interactive touchscreens.  Avocor displays include an Intel approved, OPS slot which offers users the ability to connect an OPS PC easily and gain access to the Windows platform, providing a tablet-like experience that is instantly familiar.  In addition, there is a wealth of software options available, so it is important that interactive touchscreens offer seamless integration with whatever software platform users require.”

“Commercial organisations are not looking for tailor made software that is not complaint to their IT and software policy,” points out Ringer.  “The software they already use should be accessed through the interactive touch display.  The display is therefore an end point with some glue to connect the right applications.  It is not the primary task of a manufacturer of large format touch displays to create software.”

Businesses are rapidly embracing the concept of collaboration among local and remote teams.  Large interactive displays that can be seen by all members of a team in one room and shared with others in far-flung places help achieve this.  Zrihen summarises this succinctly: “The advantage of an interactive touch screen is that it provides an open window to the external world, allowing you to collaborate from the same room or from different locations globally.  Its ease of use and simplicity can boost the productivity and efficiency of disparate teams.”

This has affected the design of interactive displays.  “In order to address this market we needed to change the hardware architecture, firmware and touch algorithms,” explains Miguel Fonseca, CEO at Displax.  “We started planning three years ago and now have a new touchscreen product, Displax Sense, to meet the specific requirements of the collaboration market with Touch and Pen.  An important tool in collaboration is the support of touchscreen pens, with the specific ink capabilities recognised on Windows 10.”

Interactive touchscreens bring together global teams, allowing them to instantly share voice, video and data and making it easier to reach real-time decisions collectively.  Cloud-based collaboration software embellishes the proposition, providing an endless, expansive canvas that accelerates the collaborative process.  Touchscreens combined with high resolution cameras and cloud conference solutions are quickly becoming part of a solution that is a simple, easy to use and cost-effective alternative to standard videoconferencing systems.”

Along with collaboration, videoconferencing is highly used in the business environment today, with video and voice calls being placed from almost any available device.  Interactive touchscreens are no exception and allow larger groups to communicate in a team environment, simulating conventional meetings, rather than many individual but isolated participants. 

Interactive displays are beneficial to all sectors of the corporate environment.  “I believe Interactive displays have a part to play in almost all industries,” says van der Woude.  “Where people have to meet, share information, generate collective ideas, train or plan, interactive screens have an important part to play. We have already seen great successes in finance, consultancy, manufacturing, construction and in the public sectors.”

Touchscreens have already established themselves as essential items in the education market and provide enormous benefit to students and teachers.  Users are familiar with them and immediately conversant with the way in which they operate; to the point of now expecting every screen they encounter to be touch-enabled.  That trend is spreading rapidly into the corporate environment, thanks largely to the innovative hardware and software technology being created by the large, dominant, brands.  Penetration has not reached saturation point and there is clearly scope for AV suppliers to sell into that market and generate highly worthwhile revenues.