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The Grill: Al Monro

He doesn't want you to give up your keyboard and mouse, but the CEO of New Zealand's NextWindow wants you to touch your computer a lot more.

By Eric Lai
October 5, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Touch computing is hot: Consider Apple's iPhone, Microsoft's Surface computer and the soon-to-arrive Windows 7. Optical touch-screen maker NextWindow Ltd. is helping drive this technology -- and making a handsome profit from it. CEO Al Monro, who joined NextWindow in 2001 after 18 years at IBM, spurred the commercialization of touch technology that has helped the privately held company grow its revenue 600% in its most recent fiscal year.

How does touch-screen technology work? [There are] six main types of touch screens. The two most popular are resistive and capacitive. Resistive is what you typically see in controlled environments, such as a point-of-sale terminal at a restaurant. It's a film on top of glass, so it is subject to damage. Capacitive is what you see on things like airport check-in kiosks.


Name: Al Monro
Title: CEO
Organization: NextWindow Ltd.
Location: Auckland, New Zealand (with secondary headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif.)
Favorite restaurant: "The French Café in Auckland. Exquisite!"
Most recent read: "The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson, on the history and origins of the English language. Fascinating, informative and witty."
Favorite place to visit in New Zealand: "Queenstown. Should be on everybody's must-see list. The adventure tourism capital of the world -- skiing, the original home of bungee-jumping, jet-boating, white-water rafting, parapenting, etc."
Worst job: IBM's general manager for sales to the financial services industry in Malaysia during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. "Not a lot happening, and no chance to make targets!"

Projected capacitive is used on the iPhone. Surface acoustic wave [technology] covers many of the same areas as capacitive. Infrared is the oldest: IBM uses this in its point-of-sale devices, as do Japanese subway ticketing machines.

Our technology is optical touch, and it's one of the newer ones. We put two sensors at the top of a screen that look across a pool of light. When you touch the screen, you create a blockage, and the blockage's location is triangulated.

What are the advantages of optical touch? As a screen increases in size, all of the other technologies increase in price -- some proportionally, some exponentially. Not our technology. We merely need to move our sensors further apart.

Our touch screens are used in HP's TouchSmart PCs and Dell's Studio One. They picked us because we can retain image clarity. This is important, because you're going to watch DVDs [and] YouTube videos and look at photos on that screen. The other technologies, except for infrared, all use a film or coating on the glass, whereas our screens are clear.

The third advantage is that users can use a finger, a hard or soft stylus, even a paintbrush on our screens.

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