The global market for projected capacitive (PCAP) touch-controller ICs that make touch-screen functionality possible will experience healthy growth this year and beyond because of widespread use in smartphones and tablets, but newer applications like ultrathin PCs will also be needed to ensure continued industry expansion, according to a Display Electronics topical report from information and analytics provider IHS.
Total PCAP touch-controller IC shipments will reach an estimated 1.4 billion units this year, up a robust 40 percent from 1.0 billion units in 2012. Growth will continue in the generous double digits for the next two years, to be followed by increases in the high single digits until at least 2017. By then, shipments will amount to some 2.7 billion units, equivalent to a five-year compound annual growth rate of 21 percent.
The PCAP touch-controller IC market continues to derive strong growth from wireless devices, particularly mobile handsets and tablets. Apple single-handedly created the market for PCAP touch-controller ICs when it launched the iPhone in 2007 and then the iPad in 2010, creating the market we know today for touch-enabled displays and touch-centric user interfaces. Since then, consumers have responded avidly to touch-enabled devices for their ease of use and sensitivity, and PCAP has broadened into other devices like PC screens and automotive displays.
Even so, adoption in new markets will be critical to continued growth of the space. While touch IC revenues in wireless communications will remain far and away the largest product segment for PCAP touch-controller ICs, the share of wireless communications as a percentage of PCAP total revenue will slip every year moving forward. To make up for the relative decline in wireless, other segments like Ultrabook PCs will need to step in-a development expected to happen-in order for the PCAP semiconductor industry to keep expanding.
PCAP use expands in devices
Within the mobile phone segment, PCAP touch-controller ICs are found primarily in smartphones or handsets with a high-level operating system, with one touch IC on average found per handset unit. With pricing for touch ICs continuing to decline, however, the controllers will also become more readily available in lower-end handsets known as feature phones.
Next to smartphones, media tablets are the most important segment driving the PCAP touch-controller IC space. The number of touch ICs used in media tablets varies, with iPads tending to deploy more ICs compared to smaller-screen-size tablets that use as few as one touch controller unit. Over time, however, fewer PCAP touch-controller ICs will be used per tablet because of the expected growth of smaller-sized tablet models, and fewer ICs will prove sufficient even for larger-screen tablets as touch IC technology advances.
In PCs, Ultrabooks promise some of the fastest growth for the next five years primarily because of strong support from Intel, which has made touch functionality a centerpiece of its Ultrabook strategy moving forward. Other devices aside from Ultrabooks that will help the PCAP market are touch-screen-based all-in-one (AIO) PCs and PC tablets.
With their use also extending to embrace other markets, PCAP will be increasingly deployed in devices like LCD monitors and consumer electronics products such as digital still cameras, digital camcorders, ebook readers and portable game devices.
Trends heading toward lighter, thinner panels
A significant trend in touch screens is the move toward in-cell liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels, which make the touch screen lighter and thinner by integrating the touch panel with the LCD screen. The pioneering product here is the Apple iPhone 5, which launched with an in-cell touch panel in the fourth quarter of 2012.
The trend will have an effect on PCAP touch-controller ICs, especially as they relate to the display driver IC that creates the image appearing on a device's display panel. In the quest for a smoother touch experience, two potential solutions will be possible: uniting both the display IC and the touch-controller IC together in a single package; or combining the two ICs in a single piece of silicon.
While the combo solution has the potential to save space and lower overall system costs, adoption will occur slowly. Less than 20 percent of touch-enabled devices will feature a single-chip solution even by 2016, and the majority of in-cell PCAP solutions for the time being will continue to be of the single-package variety.
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