Mobile gadgets driving massive growth in touch sensors

Total touch-sensor area is expected to double this year to 25.5 million square meters in 2013, and increase to 35.9 million square meters in 2015.

As PCs are giving way to mobile devices, one thing that most tablets, smartphones and other portable gadgets have in common is a touch sensor that allows users to interact with them without needing a keyboard and mouse. And this changing tide is generating increasing demand for such sensors.

According to a new report by NPD DisplaySearch, the switch from PC to post-PC devices is expected to double the total yielded touch-sensor area to 25.5 million square meters in 2013, and increasing further to 35.9 million square meters in 2015.

This is a dramatic increase from the 12 million square meters shipped in 2012.

"Mobile applications — including smartphones, tablet PCs, and notebook PCs — are driving rapid growth for touch sensors," said Shoko Oi, Deputy Director of Touch Panel and Emerging Display Research for NPD DisplaySearch. "Each of these applications has a different mix of touch sensor types, including glass- and film-based sensors, as well as one-glass solution."

According to the report, projected-capacitive touch technologies maintained its dominance in the touch-sensor market in 2012, holding onto 81.5 percent of the market. But this technology is facing pressure from other touch-sensor technologies, from such on-cell touch-sensors as found in the Galaxy smartphone and tablet PC series, and from in-cell touch-sensors which are found in the iPhone 5.

(Source: NPD DisplaySearch)

The report also goes on to point out that the touch sensor supply chain is very variable depending on device type. For example, the supply chain is awash with touch sensors for smartphones, but at the same time touch sensors for notebook PCs are experiencing a much tighter supply/demand situation, due to fewer qualified makers and uncertainty generated by Windows 8.

"Reduction in ITO film for film sensors, thinner glass sensors, and other new materials, like metal mesh and silver nanowires, are becoming more widely available," wrote Oi in a statement to ZDNet. "This on-going evolution of sensor structures and ITO replacement materials will bring new competition to the touch sensor industry."