Those disappointed by the current crop of underpowered Android tablets and iPad clones might find something to like with Merel Technologies’ mTouch. For starters, it’s powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz processor, sports a SATA 320GB hard drive, and has 4GB of DDR2 RAM. In addition, it supports up to 20 touch points on its LED-lit LCD screen and is tough enough to double as a drink coaster.
Oh, it comes in two sizes, 32 inches and 42 inches, and is actually a table tablet very much like the Microsoft Surface product.
That Merel Technologies, a tiny New York-based startup, is competing with the likes of Microsoft is not newsworthy. What is newsworthy about the mTouch is that it seems a viable alternative to Microsoft’s tabletop offering, on the surface at least (no pun intended).
Check out the spec comparison:
|Microsoft Surface||Merel Technologies mTouch|
|Pixels||1,024 x 768||1280 x 720|
|Display Type||30-inch XGA DLP projector
with camera-based vision system
|32 or 42-inch LED-lit LCD|
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo 2.13 GHz||Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz|
|Capacity||250GB SATA HDD||320GB SATA HDD|
|RAM||2GB dual-channel DDR2||4G DDR2|
|Video||ATIX1650 graphics card||Built-in GeForce 9300 graphics|
Specs alone don’t tell the story, however. Microsoft Surface utilizes a distinctive camera and infrared-spectrum image recognition system that does not rely on touch pressure to register movement. It provides Surface the ability to interact uniquely with specific objects. Merel’s mTouch is a touchscreen very similar to what you would find in a tablet, only scaled up and reinforced. It’s limited in terms of functionality.
But with Microsoft’s impressive tech comes a steep price. Microsoft Surface units start at $12,500, while the 42-inch mTouch runs only $4,200 and is manufactured completely in New York. In addition, Microsoft Surface runs via a lamp-powered DLP projector with a mean-life of approximately 6,000 hours. The mTouch uses LED strips that can last upwards of 50,000 hours and consume less power. Finally, the mTouch is more or less an open device. It runs a custom OS, complete with dedicated app store and SDK. However, if users want to load Android or Windows 7, they are free to do so.
Despite the limits of touch technology, the mTouch table tablet has a handful of impressive features, including gesture recognition and integrated sharing and email functionality, which mTouch CEO David Merel demonstrated by manipulating a magazine at the recent CEA Line Shows in New York:
Merel then demonstrated the multiple touch points and the table’s impressive touch sensitivity by tossing a handful of business cards across the surface to stimulate a ripple effect.
Another feature, which Merel didn’t demonstrate but touts on his company’s website, is object recognition. According to the site, “mTouch allows clients and visitors to place their phone on the mTouch and drag virtual objects into the phone, providing a paperless and innovative way to communicate and deliver your companies information (listings, brochures, directions, menus, etc).”
Both the mTouch and Microsoft Surface cater to the B2B market. As Merel explained, his company has generated a lot of interest from the resort casino industry, not for gaming devices, but as a hotel lobby information center. In fact, Merel Technologies is currently working on and mConcierge app that will serve up interactive hotel and event information. Merel Technologies can also customize an mTouch with apps serving business ranging from real estate offices to financial services institutions.
When pressed, Merel did admit that the mTouch could make a fun boutique item for the techie who has it all. The table unit is reminiscent of the table Pac Man and Arkanoid cabinets commonly found in pizza parlors during the 80s and 90s. In fact, mTouch is working on simple game applications for the device. Perhaps we’ll soon see an mTouch available in SkyMall or the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.
Until then, there are worse ways to kill a few minutes waiting in a hotel lobby.