A lot has been written about the Ultra High Def TVs and the wearable computing devices on display at this year's CES, but one technology that has not received much fanfare may be one of the hottest new (actually not so new but reinvented) technologies that may experience the most actual implementation and use over the next couple of years. I am referring to the multi-sensing solutions found in a number of touch screen e-readers and provided by Neonode (NASDAQ:NEON). Thanks to its significantly lower per unit cost and inherent functionality advantages under extreme climate conditions, Neonode's technology has won a number of product design wins in the last 12 months that could roll out over the course of the next 18 months in a series of vertical markets.
As you can see in a new video link recently-added to Neonode's website, and according to Volvo's presenters (Anders) at Ericsson's (an in-car system OEM) booth at CES (last week), Neonode has been integrated into Volvo's new Sensus telematics and navigation (likely a dealer-installed option) touchscreen in numerous models (the XC60 was featured it on the floor at CES). These new touchscreens looked really sharp/bright (were not dulled by anti-glare films used in resistive and P-cap screen), supported high-performance multi-touch gestures, and included unique Cloud applications like Spotify.
Based on my research, it seems Neonode's optical-infrared touch technology is optimally-suited for automotive applications, due to its high-performance at extreme temperatures (automotive qualification standards are -40C to 125C), its relatively low cost (as low as $1 per diagonal inch, versus cap-touch which can run well beyond $10/inch in a car, due to the special "melt-free" adhesives and anti-glare films required for automotive qualification), and its ability to perform well in a gloved environment (without capacitive's costly tricks like proximity sensing and jacked-up power). Management has already indicated that it has been quite successful in the automotive arena, where it has garnered 12 design wins through 3Q12, which include numerous Tier-One global auto and system OEMs (they have already announced Alpine).
Additionally, according to the USPTO website, Neonode was granted its 4th US patent on December 25th (#8,339,379) for a light-based touchscreen. This patent, which was applied for in February 2009, reads like a follow-on patent (to #7,880,732) and includes proximity-sensing features (like "hover detection") well-beyond the confines of the LCD screen.
While NEON only has 5 patents issued in the US and another 5 worldwide, they have dozens applications pending (at least 40 in the US according to the USPTO). Most significantly, NEON possess a foundational user-interface gesture patent (#8,095,879, issued in January 2012) that theoretically is quite relevant to the Samsung-Apple patent battles in 12 countries across the globe. If you recall Neonode's prior art, in the realm of touchscreen gestures (covered in its '879 patent) was deftly used by Samsung's (OTC:SSNLF) attorneys in both Dutch and London courts to invalidate Apple's "slide to unlock" patent.
With Cowen's analyst recently indicating that Neonode has solved its "flush" issues (until now Neonode's technology required a 0.4mm raised bezel but apparently can now accommodate a flush layer of cover glass), and now has a roadmap toward 5-finger touch (a prerequisite for Windows 8), there seem to be less reasons for anyone to stick with capacitive displays, especially in cost-sensitive environments (aren't they all?). Thus, I cannot wait to see what fruit NEON will bear in 2013
Disclosure: I am long NEON. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.