Disney's Touché is a Touch of Genius

Maxxwell A.R. is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Are you tired of lugging around that bulky iPhone or iPad? Do you wish laptops weren’t 2-inch thick behemoths? Yes, touch screens are addictive, but they shouldn’t come with the unnecessary hassles and inconveniences that plague their usage. That’s why we have introduced a new line of capacitive profile touch objects utilizing our patented Touché technology. Disney, touch your world.

This may soon be an advertisement from Disney (NYSE: DIS), which is developing a next-generation capacitive touch display technology named Touché. It may seem like an odd research project for a company such as Disney, but they have a slew of futuristic projects currently in development at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, Pa. Will Disney be able to tap into the tremendous growth in touch-screen technology with this disruptive platform?

If Disney has its way, then you won’t need these dorky gloves to keep your hands warm while playing Angry Birds on a capacitive touch screen. You could use the table or the outside of your jacket sleeve instead (see video below).

Let’s discover the magic of Disney

Ok, so it’s not magic. And you don’t have to visit Florida or California, but it is a potential jackpot. In 2011 touch screens generated $13.4 billion in revenue, which is expected to grow to about $23.9 billion in 2017. Here’s a nugget from a recent DisplaySearch report:

Touch screen penetration has rapidly increased in mobile phones, handheld games, game consoles, and tablet PC applications, which collectively will account for more than $10.5 billion in touch screen revenues this year,” noted Jennifer Colegrove, PhD, Vice President of Emerging Display Technologies at DisplaySearch.“ In addition, we see strong touch screen growth over the next several years driven by demand in larger display applications such as all-in-one PCs, notebook PCs, and consumer gaming.

The report goes on to say that capacitive touch modules, which were made popular by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) in 2007, are the dominant and preferred technology. Everyone can picture a television commercial featuring a hand model sliding effortlessly through tabs on an iPad. If we dig deep enough into our consumer subconscious we’ll find that it is the staple technology attributed to Apple products. It has helped Apple sell sexy, sleek products that in turn built one of the world’s largest companies. In fact, it has driven revenues from all non-stylus touch screen gadgets such as iPhones, iPads, Androids, and most major tablets and smartphones.

Screens utilizing this technology contain a single layer of conductive material whereas previous resistive technologies consisted of three layers. The simplicity of the capacitive touch screen design enables gadget suppliers such as Corning (NYSE: GLW) to be wildly successful. The company’s Gorilla Glass has been a big hit with manufactures because of its protective ability, eye-popping display, and perhaps most importantly its ease of use with capacitive touch screens.

Ease of use is where Disney has a problem. Why should something a powerful as a touch screen be confined to simple 1’s and 0’s? Why can’t our “smartphones” tell the difference between a thumb and an index finger? Disney’s vision for the future of touch screen technology turns the current way of thinking on its head. In fact, it extends far beyond screens and gadgets.

What’s the difference?

Capacitive touch screen technology is binary: a user is either touching the screen or not touching the screen. From a software point of view, it is a rather simple mechanism that looks at one frequency. Unfortunately, it is limiting in the sense that it only reads increases or decreases in voltages.

Graphic provided by Disney Research (see video below).

Disney’s Touché on the other hand, continuously samples the object over a range of frequencies and builds a capacitance profile that is capable of determining the force of each touch, how many fingers are touching, and other things that lead to an incredible amount of possibilities.

Graphic provided by Disney Research (see video below).

It works by detecting disturbances in the ambient electrical signal passed through an object. When an object is contacted by a conductive material the electrical signal changes, which carries unique signatures for unique objects. For instance, two fingers are detected differently than one finger.

Implementation

The best part is that any object that conducts electricity – from you to your swimming pool – can be used. Want to change a song on your music player without reaching into your pocket? Just tap your fingers on your wrist to scan a playlist. Is the volume too low? Just slide your fingers on your forearm to adjust it. As this video (strongly recommended) shows, Touché has an almost limitless amount of applications.

How will Disney roll this out? The platform is still conceivably years away, but the company has several options. The most likely route is to lease the technology and collect royalties, which seems to be the norm in tech these days. Imagine owning a technology that is craved by industries ranging from tech to clothing, home improvement to business services.

Foolish bottom line

Of course, with no immediate impact on earnings or revenue, Touché does not bring any immediate value to Disney. Should Touché be as disruptive as some believe however, investors may see solid profits. If the touch screen industry can generate revenues of $13.4 billion per year while limited to consumer gadgets, how much can be generated when the technology is expanded to just about anything in everyday life? In terms of revenue, is this the 2020 version of the iPhone?

Did you enjoy this article? Follow me on Twitter to keep up with my future posts on energy, sustainable chemicals, and biopharmaceuticals @BlacknGoldFool.

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BlacknGold has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Walt Disney, and Corning. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Corning, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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