Next OLPC Laptop To Get Touch-sensitive Displays

Chicago (CA) - Every now and then the world of technology takes an unexpected turn that revises our settled beliefs. The recent announcement of OLPC’s XO-2 laptop as well as an update that this device could get dual-touch sensitive displays was such a moment and we have to admit that, although it is in an early development stage, the XO-2 looks fantastic.

Touchscreen displays ? In a $75 notebook ? Are there really any questions left ?

Truth to be told, we doubt the XO-2 laptop could be manufactured cheap enough to be sold at a $100 price point, let alone the $75 Negroponte has suggested. But price is not the point here. What matters is the fact that a cheap laptop has beaten Apple and other laptop vendors in offering multi-touch in a notebook. Yes, XO-2 will not hit the market before 2010. Also, it’s more likely Apple will in the meantime bring multi-touch to its laptops and desktop machines.

As a matter of fact, Apple may even introduce the first multi-touch based laptop within two weeks, at WWDC in San Francisco. Still, we’re astounded by the XO-2’s advanced display technology revealed in an interesting Laptop Magazine interview with the former OLPC’s technology chief Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of PixelQi. Jepsen’s company specializes in dual-touch displays and has been hired to design the XO-2’s display.

PixelQi’s new multi-touch technology may find its way around Apple’s multi-touch patents that have so far created a barrier for handset makers. Some iPhone rivals, but there is no device that incorporates a multi-touch technology (it will be interesting to see how Microsoft got around Apple’s patents.) Instead of using capacitive sensors overlay over the LCD display, PixelQi will be integrating a multi-touch layer into the LCD itself, a move that promises "tremendous cost savings" and provides "better image quality because nothing is in front of the screen." The company is also working on force-feedback technology to the screen to simulate physical buttons when a user pushes a key on virtual keyboard - which raises the question whether Immersion, a company that has far-reaching patents in this space, will be a partner of OLPC down the road.

Jepsen believes that multi-touch displays are the way to go in portable devices, including laptops, but she is uncertain if the technology will actually be perceived as more advanced that a physical trackpad and keyboard : "We will see. I have no concern with breaking with tradition. Portable computing is all about the screen," said Mary Lou Jepsen, stressing that "children find multi-touch display an intuitive and easy-to-use way to interact with computers."

The technology may not be ready for the mass-market as cost needs to be "drastically reduced." But initial concerns about power consumption and screen readability are solved as Jepsen claims to have "a new architecture which drastically cuts the power consumption, while improving readability."

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