If your laptop doesn’t have a touchscreen, you don’t need to replace your whole computer to get the functionality. At CES, Neonode showed off the AirBar, a $49 peripheral that connects to a USB port and gives any display touch capability. The company plans to ship the AirBar in May.

Airbar is unobtrusive and fits just under the display. It’s a thin, black rectangle that rests on the bezel underneath the screen –  if you have a black or gray laptop, you may not even realize that it’s there. It uses invisible light to detect where your finger is on the screen and provide that feedback to the computer.video-teaserThe AirBar is simply a thin black bar which attaches to the bottom bezel of your laptop display, and plugs into a USB port to draw power. It then projects what the manufacturer calls an “invisible light field” across the notebook screen, enabling the user to employ touch gestures just as if it was a full touchscreen.

Neonode says that the AirBar will work with laptops running Windows or Chrome OS. The AirBar will come in four sizes to support most displays: 11.6 inches, 13.3 inches, 14 inches and 15.6 inches. Representatives told me that all of the sizes will retail for the same price.airbar-2-100633895-origThe AirBar’s a slim sensor that magnetically latches onto the bottom of your Chromebook or Windows laptop’s display and connects via USB. Once it’s hooked up—Neonode says it’s plug and play, with no extra drivers necessary—the device casts a beam of light across your screen, and you can poke, pinch, zoom, swipe and scroll around with your hand the way you would on a touchscreen PC.

Since the AirBar’s powered by light, rather than touch, you can use it to interact with your laptop in ways that traditional touchscreens don’t allow, such as with a glove or even chopsticks, as this video shows.

Power of Touch

In fact, this is a touchscreen-plus, because unlike a typical physical touchscreen, AirBar isn’t fazed by things like the user wearing gloves – indeed, you can use a paintbrush or other items for touch control with the device should you wish.

And you’re getting full touch functionality without paying the Earth for the upgrade either – AirBar retails at $49 (£33), although that’s without shipping. Still, it doesn’t seem like much to pay for a touchscreen.

The only caveat is currently Neonode only produces one size of the device to fit a 15.6-inch laptop, but presumably if it’s successful, other sizes will be manufactured.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the gadget only works with Windows notebooks or Chromebooks currently, although Mac laptops may eventually be supported. That said, the company claims that the product does offer limited functionality on OS X, and you can always try it out if you do happen to have a MacBook. – (Also See Our Article On Latest Macbook Release).

The story behind the story: AirBar’s price is certainly right, but that’s only one part of the equation with input as visceral as touch. The device has to nail the feeling of actual touch input if it truly wants to succeed. Will it pull it off? Neonode’s going to be showing off the AirBar at CES 2016 in a few weeks, where we’ll hopefully have a chance to poke and prod it ourselves.

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