Over half of PCs for under 15 year olds will have touchscreens by 2015

The immediate productivity gains promised by the flood of touch-enabled devices coming to market in 2010 will be slow to materialise in the organisation, according to Gartner.

“What we’re going to see is the younger generation beginning to use touchscreen computers ahead of organisations,” said Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner. “By 2015, we expect more than 50% of PCs purchased for users under the age of 15 will have touchscreens, up from fewer than 2% in 2009. On the other hand, we are predicting that fewer than 10% of PCs sold to organisations in 2015 for mainstream knowledge workers will have touchscreens.”

Fiering said that although touch and pen input are not new to the PC industry, both have been available, largely as niche products for vertical industry applications, for over 20 years, there is renewed interest in touch input today. Multitouch on smartphones and the Apple iPhone phenomenon have shown users how useful touch can be with the right implementation, and Apple’s introduction of the larger iPad has set off a wave of speculation about changing the industry.

The earliest adopters of touch-enabled devices will be consumers who rarely deal with legacy issues. They will be looking for entertainment and casual gaming applications. Gartner predicts that iPhone and touch-enabled smartphone users will want to extend the multitouch experience to their PC computing. iPad and the overwhelming majority of slate, tablet and touch-enabled convertible devices planned for 2010 will have a consumer focus.

Touch-enabled devices will have slow adoption in the organisation, due to heavy requirements for typing and text input, Gartner analysts said. The “muscle memory” of mouse users and the potential problems of moving a user’s hands from the keyboard to the mouse will create particular adoption barriers for knowledge workers. Instead, consumers and education will be the earliest adopters of touch-enabled PCs and notebooks.

One of the key target usages for the next wave of tablets will be media content consumption (movies, newspapers and e-books), and the real success driver for entertainment devices will be the content delivery ecosystem. If this category succeeds, it will create greater market awareness of and demand for touch in other PC applications.

As prices drop, education will become a major market for touch and pen-enabled devices. Younger children just entering school find direct manipulation on the screen a natural way to interact with their computers. Older students are already using pen input to annotate class material or capture formulae and graphics that can’t be recorded with keyboards (for mathematics, chemistry and physics classes, among others). However, most school districts do not want to support two separate devices, one for touch and another for pen. To deal with the differing requirements of the different grades, most districts are looking for dual-input screens that support both touch and pen in a single device.

“Consensus among the Gartner client US school districts is that over half, and possibly as many as 75%, will be specifying touch and/or pen input within the next five years,” said Fiering. “Consider this as the precursor to a major upcoming generational shift in how users relate to their computing devices.”

Conversely, organisations will be slow to adopt touch input for mainstream knowledge workers. The long tail of legacy enterprise applications that don’t leverage touch, and the large contingent of mouse-trained employees, will make many organisations doubt the business case for adding touch — and any additional costs — to PC hardware standards. However, employees are increasingly bringing their own PCs and technologies to work, whether sanctioned or not, and as with other consumer technologies, organisations will eventually be forced to acknowledge the use of touch for their mainstream knowledge users.

Touch and pen are already being used in many enterprise vertical applications for field service, law enforcement and clipboard replacements. Touch is also being used in many customer-facing situations like information kiosks and automated teller machines (ATMs). This trend will grow as touch-enabled hardware prices continue to drop and application software gets more sophisticated. Restaurants, retail and healthcare providers (for patient admittance, charting and patient records) may be among the largest adopters.

For workers immersed in graphics data analysis, touch will extend the value of the datasets as users directly manipulate the resulting graphs. Software support will be the big issue. Over time, as more touch-based graphics analysis applications become available, the features will move down market for mainstream employees, but not in the near term.

Gartner expects progress to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. No single “killer application” will change the market overnight; rather, there will be an incremental introduction of user interface and ergonomics improvements, drops in hardware prices and increases in touch-enhanced software.

“As with many recent technology advances, touch adoption will be led by consumers and only gradually get accepted by the organisation,” Fiering said. “What will be different here is the expected widespread adoption of touch by education, so that an entire generation will graduate within the next 10 to 15 years for whom touch input is totally natural.”

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