The touchscreen function on Apple's iPhone and other smartphones is spreading to larger computing devices like the new iPad, making it a popular feature among consumers. The spread of touchscreens to the workplace, though, will take far longer, predicts Gartner Inc.

In a report released yesterday, Gartner forecast that only 10 per cent of desktops, laptops and tablets used by knowledge workers in 2015 will have touchscreens, up from almost zero today.

By comparison, more than 50 per cent of desktops, laptops and tablets purchased for users under age 15 will have touchscreens in 2015, up from less than 2 per cent today, Gartner added.

"What we're going to see is the younger generation beginning to use touchscreen computers ahead of enterprises," said Leslie Fiering, an analyst at Gartner.

For the past 20 years or so, tablet and personal computers with touch and pen (or stylus) input capablities were used strictly in specific vertical industries, such as health care, retail and field service.

Kiosks with touchscreens have become widely available as well, but those are designed mostly for use by a company's customers, not its workers.

The success of multi-touch features on various smartphones and the introduction of the iPad tablet has set off speculation that touchscreens could spread quickly to corporate users, Gartner noted.

However, the technology faces slow adoption in industry at least partly due to "adoption barriers" caused by large numbers of today's workers accustomed to using a keyboard and mouse, Gartner said.

In addition, coverting to touchscreens would be costly for companies, which would have to upgrade hardware and office applications.

Fiering said that consumers, and the education market, would likely be the earliest adopters of touch-enabled desktops, laptops and tablets.

In addition, low-cost touchscreen-enabled devices could be targeted at young children entering school, allowing them to see direct manipulation of icons on a screen as a natural way to interact with a computer, she said.

Currently, Fiering said some school districts are already seeking to buy touch and pen-input in a single device, since pen-input can be used to annotate detailed class material.

Gartner added that as many as 75 per cent of its school district clients will likely be looking to buy touch and pen-input computers within five years.

"Consider this as the precursor to a major upcoming generational shift in how users relate to their computing devices," Fiering said. With the "expected widespread adoption of touch by education ... an entire generation will graduate within the next 10 to 15 years for whom touch input is totally natural."

For business users, progress toward touch capabilities will evolve incrementally, rather than burst forward because of some killer app, Fiering predicted. "As with many recent technology advances, touch adoption will be led by consumers and only gradually get accepted by the enterprise," she said.