Touchscreens are on the rise because their costs are dropping while they simultaneously have grown more powerful. "New low-cost models are being effectively targeted at older, traditionally cheaper product groups such as text operator panels," says report author, John Devlin. "Compared to standard graphic terminals with a keypad, these touchscreen products have the advantage of offering the same size screen in a smaller body.

Says Devlin, the downturn in automation makes it even more important for suppliers of that equipment to stand out from the crowd. Another sign of the trend: A recent European user survey found 71.6% of automation customers plan on using touchscreen panels by 2005.