The worldwide market for touchscreen mobile devices will surpass 362,7-million units in 2010, a 96,8% increase from 2009 sales of 184,3-million units, according to Gartner. By 2013, touchscreen mobile devices will account for 58% of all mobile device sales worldwide and more than 80% in developed markets such as North America and Western Europe.
"Touchscreens are no longer the preserve of high-end devices and are now being included in many midrange phones as more companies have been driving the consumer market for affordable touchscreen phones," says Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner. "As phone capabilities increase, consumers are becoming much more aware of the benefits of touch interfaces, and vendors are responding."
With mobile phone vendors now focused on integrating touch technologies, many are now going a step further and beginning to deliver user interfaces (UIs) that are truly optimised for touch input. They are also increasing their software skills to deliver deeper integration of touch UIs with the underlying platform, rather than software overlays.
Cozza says that the success of the iPhone has shown the viability of capacitive touch technology in mobile phones, which enables more-natural, responsive and intuitive gestures. Gartner predicts that capacitive and resistive touchscreens will coexist in the short term in mobile phones. Capacitive touch will be the mainstream technology; however, resistive touchscreens will still be around because of their lower cost.
"As we saw at Mobile World Congress 2010 touch interface technology will continue to be one of the key areas of innovation during 2010. Vendor and industry focus on touch UI will bring increasing sophistication and spur adoption of touch UI in other consumer electronics devices."
However, vendors need to concentrate on delivering an experience rather than just a product. "Consumers won't buy a mobile device purely for the touch UI," says CK Lu, research analyst at Gartner. "Touch technology is just an enabler, and ultimately, it is a compelling user experience — which includes good UI design, applications and services — that will make or break a product."
Lu advises vendors to invest in expanding their UI design capabilities and ensure that designs for touch-driven UIs integrate closely with the underlying device software, allowing for an uninterrupted experience. He also said that vendors should consider integrating touch with other form factors, such as numeric or QWERTY keypads, because touch UI cannot fulfill all kinds of operations.
From a sales volume perspective, Asia/Pacific is the leading region for touchscreen mobile devices. In 2010, touchscreen mobile device sales in Asia/Pacific are projected to surpass 129,1-million units, accounting for 35,6% of the global market. By comparison, Western Europe and North America are expected to account for 26,8% and 24,4% of global touchscreen mobile device sales. Looking at penetration of touch devices as part of overall sales in their regions, however, Western Europe leads the way with 49%, followed by North America at 46,65%. Due to the much larger size of the overall market, touchscreen sales will account for just 23.4 per cent of total mobile device sales in Asia/Pacific.
“The Asia/Pacific region adopted touch very early, since handwriting is great for Chinese input,” Lu says. “Looking at worldwide performance, touch technology is mainly driven by high end smartphones and feature phones. However, in Asia, the percentage of smartphones is relatively low compared to their sales in Western Europe and the US. Although the touch experience is generally welcome by users, price remains an inhibitor for wide adoption of touch phones, particularly in emerging markets.”