As we live in the 21st century, we assume that you have at least heard about a touch screen. It is even more likely that you have already used it or that you are using it while reading this article. Honestly, it would be quite strange if you didn’t know anything about touch screens, as the era we are living in, is apparently the touch screen era.
Although you surely have at least one smartphone, you may not be aware of how widespread are the devices with touch screens, how they are used, and what is their purpose. Touch screens are not built only into smartphones and tablets. They exist much longer and they use is wider than you could assume.
What Are Touch Screens and How They Work?
Touch screens are, in fact, interactive input devices built into electronic devices on top of their displays. They are touch sensitive (as their name already implies) and they allow the user to control the electronic device/computer by pressing letters or images on this screen with one or more fingers, or a stylus.
When it comes to the touch screen working principles, they are quite similar to the working principles of a mouse, which is used with laptops or desktop computers. The difference is that touch sensitive surface enables you to directly interact with the device through the pressure of your finger/fingers.
You may not know this, but electrical current runs through every touch screen and every time you touch it, the current changes. This information is sent to the device controller (software/process controller) and it is registered as an input command. This is why these screens are actually called input devices – they take an input (command) directly from you (your finger), which determines the following device operations. It is similar to the way that a desktop computer reacts to a click of a mouse.
Not all types of touch screens work in the same way but most of them can be controlled by a few simple moves made by your fingers (and in some cases with a stylus).
A tap (a single touch) opens an app, selects an object or a word, etc. It is actually the equivalent of a click made by a mouse.
A double tap has more functions and it is the same as the double click made by a mouse (zooming, selecting an object or a word, center your location in the map, etc.).
When you touch a spot and hold it for a few seconds, you can highlight/select an object/word, drag an app icon to a different location on the screen, etc.
A swipe helps you move across the screen, scroll texts, change pages, scroll through the contacts in your phonebook, etc.
A pinch is used for zooming in and out. When you pinch your fingers and move them away, you zoom in the displayed content. On the other hand, if you place the fingers on two different spots on the screen and then move them towards each other (pinch them together), you will zoom the displayed content out.
What Kinds of Touch Screens Are There?
As we have previously mentioned, the touch screens you can see on modern smartphones aren’t the only kind that’s available on the market. Touch screens have changed over the years and there are 3 main types of touch screens: resistive, capacitive, and surface wave screens.
Resistive touch screens
Resistive screens have two layers (thin metallic electrically conductive layer and the resistive layer). The electrical current runs through them and when you press the surface with your finger, the information is transferred from the top to the bottom layer causing the change of electrical current. These screens were the first touch screens on the market and they have some design limitations. They react only to the single touch and usually work better with a stylus than with human fingers. You can also use the nail tips but you risk scratching the top layer. Resistive screens are up to 75% cheaper than the others.
Capacitive touch screens
Capacitive screens are probably the most popular type as they are used for making smartphone and tablet displays. They have just one layer, which is covered with a material that stores electrical charge. When you press the screen, a small amount of electrical current is absorbed by your body, which causes the charge to change. The change indicates the place where your finger touched the screen and the information goes to the process controller.
These screens are very popular, they have high visual quality, and they reflect less light than the resistive screens. They are not easily affected by outside elements, objects, etc. and they support all kinds of touches (from one tap to multiple touches and pinches). However, they are more expensive than the resistive ones, and they don’t respond to stylus or gloves, just human fingers.
These screens support the specific technology that uses ultrasonic waves, which pass human touch over the screen. When you touch the screen, your body absorbs a part of the wave, which causes the wave to change and it allows the touch to be located and registered.
These screens are very advanced but also very sensitive to outside elements.
Where Are They Used?
We have already said that touch screens are everywhere around us but here is a more detailed list of places and situations where you can use some kind of touch screen.
Some of you may not know this, but the smartphone predecessor was a device called PDA (personal digital assistant). It was actually a palmtop computer that was used as a personal digital organizer. It first appeared in the 80s and it got its telephone functions in the 90s.
Later, we were introduced to smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. While the first devices used resistive screens, the modern ones feature capacitive screens as they are more responsive, practical, and easier to use.
Today, you have GPS navigation devices built into our cars as part of the regular equipment. These devices also use touch screens.
In an airplane
The entertainment device in front of every passenger in an airplane is actually a device with a resistive touch screen technology. What you probably don’t know is that touch screen devices are also used in cockpits as they show information with high accuracy and clarity.
Nintendo was the manufacturer that introduced the first console with touch screen features. This system actually has two display screens and the lower one is the touch screen. This game was actually played with a stylus and it allowed the user/player to move figures, objects, and characters across the screen.
Today, every smartphone is a gaming console and they all have touch screens. There’s also a bunch of handheld gaming consoles equipped with a touch screen.
If you look closer, you will notice that all kinds of machines in different places (facilities, streets) and with different purposes use touch screens.
For example, many ATM machines use touch screens. Some of them still use buttons that help you control the process but there will be more and more ATMs with touch screens in the future.
Also, you have POS systems in most supermarkets because these machines prevent standing in long lines in order to get served and pay for your products. POS systems are faster and cheaper, and they also have touch screens.
In addition, you can see similar machines in restaurants (especially in fast-food restaurants) that enable you to order your food and pay for it without standing in lines. Touch screens are also built into ticket-selling machines in front of bus and train stations, museums, etc.
Modern companies equip their facilities with modern devices like copy machines and scanners with touch screens for easier, faster, and more reliable use.
Almost all schools today have interactive whiteboards that use touch screen technology. They have become very popular because they reduce the number of printed school material to a minimum, enable teachers to show digital material (even directly from the Internet) but it also enables both teachers and students to draw on them and to save all the changes for the next class. These boards usually use infrared technology.
These were only some of the examples of how touch screens are used in everyday situations. Their use is getting more and more popular and the number of different purposes is getting bigger every day. They are also being used in medical facilities (for marking tumors, as part of the equipment in operating rooms, sometimes even placed next to a patient’s bed), for factory automation (for easier control of the process without numerous bulky switches, lamps, and knobs), etc.
All in all, touch screens are very popular because they allow us to operate faster and because they are very easy to use. This happens because touch is one of the instinctive gestures and it’s easier to learn how to use something based on our inborn abilities. Apart from this, touch screens are very reliable and durable, and they are also getting cheaper every day. It’s not a surprise that we are living in a touch screen era.