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Here’s your Cheat Sheet to this week’s top tech industry business headlines:
In a world that has at this point largely converted to digital means, companies like Fujifilm, who led the industries in film and film-based cameras, are struggling to find new ways to align their products with the constantly shifting demand for technology.
Some companies like Kodak followed industry lines and started creating their own digital cameras, printers, and other new photography technologies. Some were met with great success, but others had a difficult time adapting to the new trends. (Kodak, for example, recently filed bankruptcy.) Fujifilm was able to successfully launch its digital line, but as more and more smartphones are coming equipped with high resolution cameras, Fujifilm is looking for new areas of growth, and is deciding to take its operations in another direction.
Using its experience with silver, which is commonly used in the film industry, Bloomberg is reporting that Fujifilm is working on the development of a touchscreen that will not use indium tin oxide, or ITO, a rare and brittle metal that is currently essential in the construction of touchscreen devices. The majority of this metal is found in China, and for years the industry has been working on ways to lessen dependence on ITO before the market finds itself pinned under resource depletion…
Touchscreen PCs are estimated to make up only 13 percent of PC sales this year, according to NPD DisplaySearch. This number accounts for Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 operating system, which was released in October of last year and designed with touchscreens in mind. The high costs of adding touch capabilities to PCs have added extra difficulties for PC manufacturers to compete against companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), who have been selling touchscreen devices since 2007, Bloomberg noted.
Fujifilm, as well as other companies like Atmel Corp (NASDAQ:ATML) and Uni-Pixel (NASDAQ:UNXL), hope to find a design that will allow PC makers to lower costs associated with touchscreen production. For a 23-27 inch all-in-one desktop screen, adding touch capabilities will cost about $180, although for smaller screens the additional costs are closer to $45, according to Cody Acree, an analyst at Williams Financial Group.
While the current costs for touch technology on smaller devices are still manageable, scaling the screen size up causes the costs to become disproportionately high. As ITO availability becomes more scarce, these costs will only rise, and companies are seriously seeking alternatives to maintain a consistent and sustainable production model.
In addition to being cheaper and giving more accurate readings of where a device is being touched, copper-based technology opens the door to curved and even flexible displays. Unlike screens with ITO, which breaks easily, metal-based panels can bend, said Brett Gaines, senior director for business development of Atmel’s XSense business. Samsung and Apple, which together supply more than half of the smartphone market, dominate demand for ITO, and together use over half the industry’s output of the metal.
Atmel has already signed on with Asustek, a Taiwanese PC and tablet manufacturer. Atmel has already began shipping the new sensors for use in Asus’s hardware. Similarly, Uni-Pixel signed on with Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) back in December. Although Fujifilm is rumored to be supplying Microsoft with its touchscreen technology, the company was not listed under Microsoft’s list of suppliers, according to data from Bloomberg.
The new technology would give the PC industry a leg up in its competition with Apple, who can be credited for taking the touchscreen technology to the mainstream. While these new methods of touchscreen production are not likely to win the war or sway the market share in one direction or another, it is certainly a valuable asset for these PC companies to have in their pockets.
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