Touchscreens to be on a quarter of all notebooks by 2016: IHS

While Intel is enthusiastic about touch-enabled devices, even if it hits 25 percent market penetration by 2016, it will still be niche rather than a must-have feature, which doesn't bode well for Microsoft and its touch ambitions for Windows.

By 2016, about a quarter of all notebooks shipped will feature a touchscreen display, claims research firm IHS.

While touchscreen-enabled notebooks are pretty rare at present, a combination of falling touchscreen display prices and Intel's supply chain muscle will see global shipments increase from just 4.6 million units in 2012 to 78 million units in 2016, by which time they will account for 24.6 percent of all global PC notebook shipments, according to IHS's Notebook Touch Panel Shipment Database.

This year alone shipments of shipments expected to increase to 24 million, up more than 400 percent, which represents the highest rate of growth the market is anticipated to achieve for the next four years.

The biggest motivator is, of course, price. Low-end 14-inch capacitive touchscreen display panels have fallen to $35, down sharply from their $60 to $70 price point in 2012.

Intel is also adding its might to the endeavour of getting touch into the hands of as many PC users as possible and ensuring a steady supply of low-cost touchscreen panels.

"Touch displays are reinventing the PC market and there is a substantial growth opportunity in this area," said Zane Ball, Intel vice president and general manager, Global Ecosystem Development. "At Intel, we have adopted a strategy that touch should be everywhere. We believe that as touch moves into the PC space, it will be a transformative product and will unlock new demand."

However, it seems that some OEMs needed convincing. In a statement to ZDNet, an IHS spokesperson said that Intel has "also had to do some evangelizing to convince sometimes doubtful members of PC supply chain of the merits of touchscreen technology." However, Intel believes that cheap screens and its new Haswell low-energy processors will see the market expend significantly.

"We’re glad we’ve made this investment because now there’s little doubt there’s demand for touch in any number of PC form factors," Ball said.

Haswell is a follow-on from the Ivy Bridge architecture, and carries forward many of the features. This includes a 22-nanometer manufacturing process and 3D tri-gate transistors. However, Haswell silicon will feature new instruction support – including AVX2 and FMA3 – will include on-board graphics support for Direct3D 11.1 and OpenGL 3.2, and will provides Haswell-Ex DDR4 support for enterprise and servers.

But the real end-user benefit in Haswell is power efficiency, with Intel saying that the chips can slash power consumption by as much as 41 percent in notebooks and ultrabooks. In real terms, power consumption has been cut from 17 watts to 10 watts, offering a massive improvement in performance per watt.

According to Intel CEO Paul Otellini, Haswell's 22-nanometer processor will deliver "the single largest generation-to-generation battery life improvement in Intel history". As the PC industry is forced to transition from power-hungry desktop systems to notebooks and tablets, and the company is keen to squeeze as much runtime out of battery packs as possible, Intel hopes that Haswell will be at the core of these devices.

While that 78 million number seems impressive, it's still pitifully low, representing less than a couple of quarters of iPhone sales. It seems more like touchscreen notebooks are just expending into some of the void created by plummeting desktop PC sales.

Another problem is that even at 25 percent market penetration, touch will continue to be a niche feature, rather than the must-have feature that Microsoft, Intel and others are desperate for it to be. And this doesn't bode well for the future of touch-enabled operating systems.

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