Synaptics is the company whose products you probably interact with every day without knowing. They’re always advancing the science of haptics and touch-detection, and their latest work is the most impressive yet. What they’ve done is integrate the touch controller (basically, the tiny chip that detects and reports touch activity) with the display driver. This means they can rule out a lot of the noise that the display creates with the touch sensors — the result is vastly improved sensitivity, even when using something non-conductive like a glove or stylus.
The demonstrators showed how you could wear golf gloves and still interact with it normally, poke at it with a stylus or even a pin, and even stacked 10 business cards on the screen and showed how it could still detect touches. This could really make for improved usability, even new features like easy stylus-based input that doesn’t compromise normal capacitive operation.
The next thing integration with the display driver does is allow for near-instantaneous visual feedback. Normally when you, say, pick up an icon or tap on the screen, that touch information goes from the sensor to the touch driver to the CPU, which queries the layout, directs what happens in the next frame, and then sends that information to the display driver. Now, since the touch and display driver are in direct communication, the touch sensor can just say “display this,” creating instant visual feedback.
What that feedback is depends on how deep the OS wants to include this direct display connection, but what they showed was a crosshair or dot that followed your touch with almost no latency.
How far are these from market? Well, that depends on whether OEMs like Apple and HTC decide to pick them up. Synaptics works with display manufacturers, not directly with the product designers, so it’s out of their hands. But as I expressed to them at the booth, the important part is not being the bottleneck. When someone complains about how their phone is slow or laggy, believe me, it isn’t Synaptics’ fault.