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SMART Technologies Acquires NextWindow: Consolidation in Optical Imaging Touch Screens

Today SMART Technologies announced the acquisition of NextWindow. Canada-based SMART is a leading provider of interactive whiteboards, which are mainly used for education/training applications. It has both resistive and optical imaging touch technologies.

New Zealand-based NextWindow (Next Holdings Limited) was founded in 2001, and has been a leading designer and manufacturer of optical imaging touch technology for integration into all-in-one computers, desktop monitors and large-format screens.

Optical imaging touch screen technology uses image sensors to track the touch location, and is cost-effective because it only requires two cameras and an IR light source. The cost advantage scales with panel sizes. The larger the panel is, the more cost-effective, but the reverse is also true. Optical imaging also has the advantage of 100% transmissivity, since it doesn’t require any overlay on the display. (One piece of glass can be used for good durability.)

In April 2009, SMART filed a patent infringement lawsuit against NextWindow to enforce its DViT (Digital Vision Touch) technology patent portfolio. NextWindow has defended itself; recently, I spoke with NextWindow’s CEO Al Monro, who indicated that NextWindow has independently developed their touch technology. NextWindow has been granted five patents and has over 20 patents pending.

Although both companies are using optical imaging touch technology, their target markets are different. As SMART’s CEO, Nancy Knowlton indicated that NextWindow’s “business model, patent portfolio and focus on the consumer market make it an attractive acquisition for us.”

The touch screen industry continues to undergo rapid change. What does this acquisition mean for other touch screen suppliers, particularly optical imaging touch suppliers? Where is the industry headed? These and other questions will be discussed and analyzed at the SID/DisplaySearch will hold the SID DisplaySearch Business Conference on Monday, May 24 in Seattle, at SID Display Week.