Touch Panel Futures

Every once in a while you stumble across a topic that is bigger or deeper than it appears at first glance. This is what happened to us, here at AVNation, last week. In an effort to promote our various podcasts we will post on Facebook,Twitter, Goolge Plus and LinkedIn. In the LinkedIn universe we will post on our own AVNation board as well as a few others, including AV Industry Professionals. If you aren’t a member of that group, you should check it out.

The question I posed was “when will Crestron/AMX stop making touchpanels and use consumer interfaces”? A simple enough question. It was based on a story about Sharp’s new 32-inch touch interface. Yes, I said 32-inch touch interface. We had a conversation about it on AVWeek Episode 112. The basic consensus was that they wouldn’t stop making touchpanels in general, but integrators may begin using the company line panels in favor of consumer ones (iPads, Sharp’s panel, Android Tablets, etc.).

What was really interesting was the conversation that happened on the LinkedIn group. There were consultants, manufacturers, technology managers, and integrators all giving their perspective. Every one did have a unique perspective.

Let’s begin, though,with why even bring up the story or ask the question in the first place. Sharp’s 32-inch touch interface is not primed and ready to replace a Modero or TPS-6X (AMX and Crestron panels respectively). However, it is the evolution of the touch interface into everyday life that makes the control companies’ touch interface ubiquitous for the public. It is just another in a line of touch interfaces the consumers have gotten used to. We are beginning to expect to interact with technology primarily through touch, and eventually voice; but we’ll write about that another time.

If you look at the list price of both a TPS-6X, a Crestron touch panel, and the price of an iPad, the contrast is a bit staggering. Roughly $3000 difference. Now, I am talking list price here and “nobody pays list”, but you at least can get an idea of where we are starting. Yes, the dedicated touch panel is probably going to be a bit more robust than an iPad with an app. Yes, there are going to be some use cases for dedicated panels. From my point of view as a technology manager and as someone who covers the industry, it appears as if the consumer interfaces are creeping into an area that the control companies used to own, and I’m not certain that is a bad thing.

It appears that the major control companies are realizing this. The majority of them have put plenty of resources into their various apps. In addition, their existing touch panels have baked in applications that make them more than a fancy remote control. Some of them run Android apps (so you can play Angry Birds) or Microsoft Office applications. In this way, the control companies are giving the consumer more than they were five or six years ago when a 15-inch panel ran about $12,000.

The bottom line for me is that the genie is already out of the bottle. When customers look at the specs of projects and see an item listed as “4-inch touch panel” and it’s more than twice what their 9-inch tablet costs you need to be able to explain why. For some customers the explanation will be sufficient. For some, it will not. We have entered into, not a post-touch panel era, but an era where the touch panel, like the newspaper, will be eclipsed by a mass-consumer adopted device. Touch panels aren’t going anywhere any time soon. There are certainly use cases for them. However, the march of the consumer devices controlling most of the control systems you put in has begun. They will most likely be the majority of what controls the systems you put in today, and tomorrow. It isn’t a bad thing; embrace it.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Have a great week.

For more information about the AV Industry Professionals group on LinkedIn, click here and ask to join it. It’s a great resource.

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