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The Grill: Al Monro

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

How was NextWindow started? The company was formed in 2000 by a serial inventor with a background in a lot of different technologies, including underwater acoustics. He's John Newton, our CTO.

I got involved when I was asked by the investors to see if the technology was worth commercializing. They wanted to license the technology. But I said, "Guys, you can't license a technology you haven't really developed yet." And so we became a manufacturer, the first to really commercialize optical touch.

For the first three to four years, we were doing overlays for very large plasma and LCD displays and big kiosks, some as large as 103 inches in size.

But you were envisioning that you could eventually get into PCs and laptops? Right from the start, we had a program to miniaturize the technology down for the volume markets. Our first breakthrough was being able to put our touch screens into LCD TVs as small as 32 inches.

In late 2005, we showed a prototype of a 19-in. touch-screen monitor to HP. We were lucky; we had a relationship with HP on another project. When that got canceled, we found the group that was looking at [developing] a new all-in-one PC with touch.

By that time, we had already shipped 2,000 to 4,000 large touch screens into the market. We'd proved our technology was very robust. But we were certainly new to the volume game.

How much are you shipping now? HP and Dell are our main customers, but we also have some LCD monitor makers. I would hope that we produce a million touch screens this year. [NextWindow produced about 400,000 last year.]

We expect to see a big uplift with Windows 7. With Windows 7 offering built-in multitouch, all of the major monitor makers will have to have a touch product in their range.

Right now, we produce interactive touch panels that go on top of LCD and plasma screens. Ideally, we would like to have relationships with the LCD panel manufacturers so that we can integrate the touch straight into the display. Customers will have much better optics.

How much more would an LCD monitor with your touch technology cost? It's a question that we all ask, because it's going to help determine the penetration of touch. If a touch-screen monitor is an extra $500, you're not going to buy it.

The other important factor: if there are some really cool apps put out by Google, Facebook, Adobe or Microsoft themselves for Windows 7. So far, it's mostly smaller ISVs.

Will touch replace the keyboard and mouse? You'll see bloggers complain, "Oh, I'm not going to stand here with my hands up all day." Of course you're not. You're going to still keep using the keyboard and mouse. But there are going to be some things that are much more intuitive to do with touch.

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