First Dell, then HP: What's next for N-trig's multitouch screen technology?

Crave talks to Lenny Engelhardt, N-trig's VP of Business Development, about the company's multitouch technology.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
4 min read

Lenny Engelhardt, N-trig's VP of Business Development N-trig

Wanting to know more about N-trig's multitouch technology, now that it has reached the consumer market with the HP TouchSmart tx2 tablet, I spoke with N-trig's VP of Business Development, Lenny Engelhardt, earlier today. Here's what I learned.

The HP TouchSmart tx2 tablet features similar multitouch functionality as the enterprise-focused Dell Latitude XT with a few differences. Both tablets provide multitouch gestures such as dragging and dropping, flicking, and pinching. If you make an M gesture with your finger on the TouchSmart's screen, however, you'll launch HP's MediaSmart application. For its part, the Dell Latitude XT includes two gestures not found on the HP: two-finger scrolling and a double-tap gesture that turns off the display and touch sensitivity. The scenario for the double-tap is this: you have the tablet in slate mode and want to pick up it up and move to another room. You can carry it with your palm or fingers gripping part of the screen without worrying about moving the cursor. Simply tap the touch pad, mouse button, a key, or remove the stylus from its garage, and the screen and touch sensitivity return.

With nearly the same multitouch functionality, how does one explain the disparity in price between Dell's enterprise tablet (starting price: $1,829) and HP's consumer tablet (starting price: $1,149)? In part, the reasons for the cost disparity can be seen by looking at the difference in size and weight, security features, and the length of the warranty of the two systems. Both tablets feature 12.1-inch screens, but the Dell Latitude XT is only an inch thick and weighs 3.57 pounds. The HP TouchSmart tx2 weighs 4.65 pounds and is 1.2 inches thick at its thinnest point. The Dell also features enterprise security features such as a biometric reader, a TPM chip, and a smart card reader. The Dell comes backed with a three-year warranty that includes next-day onsite care, while the HP has a standard one-year depot warranty.

The HP TouchSmart tx2 is the first consumer laptop to feature a multitouch touch screen. HP

Where might we see N-trig's multitouch technology next?
"We'll remain focused on the mobile PC space, specifically high-volume, highly interactive devices," said Engelhardt. Although N-trig's technology isn't tied to Intel or AMD platforms and is implemented via a simple USB connection, don't expect N-trig's tech to show up on smartphones and other small mobile devices for the simple fact that their screens are too small to make good use of a multitouch interface. How big must a display be to provide a suitable user experience? "Seven- to 17-inches is our sweet spot," said Engelhardt.

We were both in agreement that multitouch functionality would greatly aid the usefulness of small Netbooks, the smallest of which feature 7-inch displays. Although Engelhardt could not comment on which manufacturers N-trig is currently working with, he did say that we'd see standard clamshell laptops with multitouch displays next year.

The Dell Latitude XT is the first laptop of any variety to feature multitouch touch-screen functionality. Dell

Will we see new multitouch features or gestures?
N-trig will continue to add to its menu of multitouch gestures, Engelhardt said. "Next year, we'll introduce an upgrade of onscreen keys known as multitouch buttons," he said. Engelhardt was quick to explain that it would not be an onscreen keyboard meant to replace a laptop's actual keyboard for typing, but a smaller set of keys meant to perform specific functions within an application. For example, you might have a set of onscreen keys that would allow you to perform common Photoshop actions when treating an image.

How has it been working with Microsoft?
N-trig has enjoyed working with Microsoft and "multitouch data streams are recognized natively by Windows 7," Engelhardt said. He believes that all but one version of Microsoft's next operating system will support it. Engelhardt credits the iPhone for raising the public's awareness of multitouch to where the market will be ready for multitouch to play a large role in the next Windows release. He hopes to see more companies make use of N-trig's multitouch functionality; a beta version of N-trig's Windows 7 driver is available for software developers.

N-trig's multitouch technology comes by way of a transparent overlay that is placed on top of a laptop display. The electronics are located along two sides of the overlay, which are then hidden behind the screen bezel. N-trig

N-trig was not involved with Microsoft's Surface computer, which uses optical technology. That is, infrared cameras and a projector behind its touch screen, which helps explain the Surface computer's high price and large size. In comparison, N-trig uses a capacitive touch sensor. The circuitry is located along two sides of a thin, transparent screen sensor, which allows N-trig to implement the technology inside a thin laptop or tablet display.

How do you see consumers using multitouch?
In addition to the types of applications previously demonstrated (see video below), including manipulating photos, navigating maps, and playing simple games, Engelhardt said two other areas where he can see consumers making use of multitouch functionality will be with multimedia applications and mainstream office applications. He mentioned music applications as a prime example of where multitouch can improve the user experience, as well as presentation applications and even navigating your e-mail in-box as examples of multitouch aiding your workday in the office. Lastly, he expects companies such as Adobe and Corel as well as AutoCAD software developers to add multitouch capability to their future applications.