Atmel's advanced touch panels are growing up to tablet size – and you'll be touching one soon

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Recently I bemoaned the fact that the iPhone still has a huge advantage over other phones in that it has the most responsive and accurate touchscreen. Their days as reigning champ may be numbered, however: Atmel, a behind-the-scenes company that makes, among other things, the touch panels for Samsung’s newest smartphones, is announcing today that their maXTouch technology will now be available in sizes up to 15″. I talked with Atmel’s Binay Bajaj, who seemed very proud of their product. Everybody likes to boast, he said, but he was confident that their touch tech is measurably better than any on the market. They even made a crazy dramatic video of potential applications.

Told you it was crazy.

The maXTouch panels are currently found in a few announced products, though they wouldn’t name any specifically except for the Wave (the Galaxy S is a guess of mine). They said, however, that they’re working with the top guys in the business to put their new touch panels in all kinds of stuff. At up to 15″ in size, they could power anything from a small slate to a full-size notebook. I wonder if any of the current rumored or announced tablets have Atmel touch panels?

What exactly makes a touch panel better than another? Well, it actually depends a lot on the implementation. Synaptics told me after I ragged on the trackpad industry that a bad trackpad is almost always due to bad implementation at a higher level than the trackpad itself. Of course, they would say that. But it’s the same story with touchscreens. Unless these high-quality touch panels are paired with high-quality screens and a UI that matches them in snappiness, then you won’t be able to tell they’re all new and advanced.

The maXTouch platform itself supports the usual gestures, but also has virtually no limit to touches. It supports stylus input due to what they call neutral capacitance, and rejects palms and unintentional touches natively. A 7ms response time rounds out the package, which they say puts it at the top of the class.

Why do you, the reader, care? Well, the more stuff that is implemented natively by the touch panel, the more features you get on basic devices. With powerful touch panels standard, there’s no need to design a UI or OS around single touches only, or to worry on a software level about inputs interfering with each other. Too many devices I’ve seen coming out use sub-standard touchscreens with slow response times or limited gestures. The responsive and powerful touch panels in Samsung’s newest flagship phones are now big enough to put in larger devices. I’ve asked Atmel to keep me posted on new devices sporting their tech so we can compare them to non-Atmel stuff — it’s really the only fair way to evaluate something like this.

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