“The iPhone of tablet computers.”
Meir Morag, left, and Amihai Ben-David. “The iPhone of tablet computers.” Photo by Hen Reinhold
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The Kfar Sava-based startup N-trig will provide the touch-screen technology for the tablet computer that Taiwanese manufacturer HTC is developing as direct competition for Apple's iPad. The so-called gPad will be rolled out in the United States in November by global search engine, email, book depository, you name it colossus Google, in cooperation with the U.S. telecommunications company Verizon.

It's a coup for N-trig, whose multitouch screen technology has led it to be called the iPhone of notebook computers, with screens that identify and respond to the touch of several fingertips at a time on the surface.

From Bill to Steve

Last week's announcement, on the Download Squad blog, that HTC is building a tablet using Google's Chrome operating system, and not Microsoft's Windows 7 OS, shouldn't be too surprising, given that the manufacturer made the NexusOne cell phone for Google, but it represents a shift for N-trig. The Israeli developer's technology is integrated into Windows 7, and in a departure from policy the giant from Redmond, Washington has invested in N-trig. There's no legal barrier to the "betrayal," though, as Microsoft and N-trig never signed an exclusivity agreement.

The news about the N-trig-HTC collaboration was delivered to TheMarker via the Taiwanese firm, and N-trig declined to comment for this article.

So, what's so great about multitouch? If you don't know already, borrow your daughter's iPhone or take a spin at a store that carries Apple varieties. It's easy, convenient and very, very fun even on the relatively small screen of the phone-PDA. Just imagine the fun you can have whisking images and applications along the screen of a full-sized screen, not to mention rotating pictures with the twist of a finger and zooming in with a pincer motion.

For now the gPad is in the single-prototype stage, a closely guarded secret even from most N-trig employees. Let's just hope, for their sake, that no one leaves it in a Ra'anana bar. The secrecy extends also to the details of the new tablet's branding - will it bear the colorful logo of Google, or the staid one of HTC? - as well as of the agreements among the various companies that are involved. Even the November rollout date, one of the few known details, is subject to change.

License to use

N-trig's business model is based on selling licenses to use its technology; original equipment manufacturers that incorporate the company's software in its products pay N-trig a certain amount for every computer they sell that uses it. For the Google-HTC tablet computer partnership, N-trig submitted a tender bid, and won.

Another would-be iPad competitor, HP's on again-off again Slate, is expected to use N-trig's multitouch technology as well - if it ever gets built. The troubled company promised just Friday that its tablet is coming "soon," but no one in the tech blogosphere is holding their breath.

N-trig was founded in 1999 by Dr. Meir Morag, and its CEO is Amihai Ben-David. According to Israel Venture Capital-Online, the company has raised a total of $74.1 million in financing. With a workforce of about 120, N-trig has signed contracts with mobile computer manufacturers Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba, in addition to HP and HTC.