3M introduces Multi-Touch Display screens

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 12, 2013 - 6:28 AM

3M’s new 46-inch touch screens, which can handle six users and 60 touches at once, are headed for retailers’ showrooms.

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3M kept a promise it made last quarter by ramping up its touch-screen offerings for retailers, trade shows and sales teams demanding bigger and bolder visual aides as part of their pitch.

3M’s Multi-Touch Display Screen debuts Wednesday at the InfoComm 2013 trade show in Orlando after 18 months of development. The 46-inch touch screen lets up to six people at a time poke and play with images on the screen.

3M’s Multi-Touch seriously scales up cellphone touch-screen technology. It processes 60 touches simultaneously with a response rate of 10 milliseconds per touch. It has zoom and rotate features just like a cellphone, but this device can be mounted on a wall or turned into an interactive table for group access.

It is 3M’s latest option for cutting-edge companies looking for sleek, visual and fun sales tools. Industry experts, such as market research firm IHS Inc., said 3M appears to be onto something. Retailers have increasingly embraced digital display screens, monitors and TVs for use inside their stores. IHS predicts that retail “digital sign­age” will grow from 1.8 million devices this year to 2.4 million by 2016.

The device is bigger and faster than most and should let retail customers quickly compare product features with the mere swipe of a finger, 3M officials said. If correct, traditional retailers, cellphone stores, car dealerships, trade show exhibitors, restaurants and collaborative workplaces could offer 3M an avenue to millions in new sales.

“We see the retail space as a key market for us and applications for use [in a] wide range of assisted selling” settings where sales associates would use the display to showcase and compare different products, said Ian Kimball, Americas marketing manager for 3M Touch Systems. “This is obviously a larger and more interactive digital device [than prior 3M offerings] so many more users can use it at the same time.”

For example, Kimball said an entire family shopping for a car in a dealership could use the interactive touch screen to virtually customize a vehicle for each member of the family. Each member could go to the screen and select different paint colors, seat coverings, panel interiors, wheel-rims and more. Or the device could be used by cellphone sales reps to help customers quickly tap and scan and compare multiple service options, Kimball said.

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said he could see the device being used in jewelry stores, where clients have to separately select their stone, clarity, color and design. “This system would let them [virtually] drop and drag selections and see the whole ring or pendant complete. There would be a real value in that.”

When Nustad first heard about the size, speed and interactive nature of 3M’s device, his critique was short: “Wow.”

His association represents 1,500 retail locations across the state. Members include Target, Creative KidStuff, Holiday Gas Stations, Pawn America and many others. But would they shell out the suggested $6,500 to get the latest high-tech visual sales-aid? Maybe. (That compares with $4,975 for 3M’s smaller 32-inch model.)

“Retailers are definitely looking for ways for consumers to experience and customize products in ways they have not been able to in the past,” Nustad said.

The technology could differentiate one store from a lower-tech rival. “It is a competitive retail marketplace and retailers are looking for tools,” Nustad said.

Orders for the 46-inch Multi-Touch could outpace 3M’s 32-inch multi-display panel, which allows up to four users at the same time. 3M’s product comes to market just as competitors such as XQ Interactive, Elo Interactive, Horizon Display and others increasingly showcase larger models of their own, though speed and touch point processing capabilities vary.

3M officials insist they will not be left behind. 3M already has an 84-inch multi-touch display table in the works. It could be on the market next year.

The 46-inch model is now available online and through select distributors, Kimball said. He would not disclose the names of firms that have tested the Multi-Touch.

Diego Romeu, a global business manager for 3M Electronic Business Solutions, said 3M made sure its product could handle lots of use. “This new display is an ideal solution for companies developing multi-user applications that are looking for the reliability, robustness and touch performance needed for commercial environments.”

The electronics and other components are manufactured in Methuen, Mass., while final assembly is done overseas.

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