Getting to grips with touchscreen technology for business


Getting to grips with touchscreen technology for business

Do you use touchscreen technology in your business? If you don’t yet, you probably use touchscreens out and about all the time – at the supermarket self-checkout, at the ATM and, of course, on your smartphone and/or tablet.

In fact, it seems as if, over just a few years, that touchscreens have taken over the world, so to speak. Everywhere you go, you see people interacting with screens of all shapes and sizes at the touch of a finger. Today, touchscreen displays are widely used in computers, public kiosks, ATMs, the point of sale applications, gaming consoles, ticket vending machines, PDAs, smartphones, tablets – the list goes on.

We often tend to think of touchscreens as a relatively recent development, but they’ve actually been around for quite a while. Did you know that the first ever touchscreen was developed by a certain E.A Johnson at the Royal Radar Establishment in the UK in the late 1960s?

A few years later, in 1971, a Dr Hurst at the University of Kentucky Research Foundation achieved a milestone in touchscreen technology with his development of a touch sensor named ‘Elograph’. Then in 1974, he, together with his company, Elographics, went on to develop the first touchscreen featuring a transparent surface, and subsequently developed a ‘resistive touchscreen’ technology that is one of the most popular touchscreen technologies in use today.

So what exactly is a touchscreen?

Touchscreen technology is “direct manipulation-type gesture-based technology”. What that mouthful actually describes is a two-dimensional electronic sensing device usually made of two sheets of material separated by spacers. The resultant visual display, i.e. the screen, is capable of ‘detecting’ and effectively ‘locating’ a touch over its display area.

Comprising three basic elements – a sensor, a controller and a software driver – touchscreen technology makes the screen sensitive to the touch of a human finger, hand or finger nail, or a passive object, such as a stylus, to enable users to move things on the screen, scroll them, make them bigger and so on.

Which touchscreen is the one for you?

Did you think all touchscreens are the same? Well, think again!

There are actually several variations of touchscreen technology, each with their own distinctive characteristics, and individual benefits and limitations. The five most common types of the touchscreen are Resistive, Surface Capacitive, Projected Capacitive, Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) and Infrared/optical touchscreens.

Below is a basic description of each type, and their pros and cons, to help you decide which touchscreen type is most appropriate for your needs.

Touchscreen typesResistiveSurface CapacitiveProjected CapacitiveSAW (Surface Acoustic Wave)Infrared/Optical
CharacteristicsThis is the most common touchscreen. It comprises two layers – a flexible film screen as the top layer and a rigid glass bottom layer – separated by spacers.

Both layers are coated with a thin metallic film. When a user touches the screen, the flexible top layer presses down and connects with the bottom layer, resulting in an electrical flow. The controller is then able to calculate the coordinates of the touch point and convert it into readable signals for the operating system to react accordingly.
The glass panel of this touchscreen is coated with a transparent conductive material (electrode) that is covered with a protective layer.

When a bare finger touches the screen, the screen reacts to the static electricity of the human body, with some of the charge transferring from the screen to the user. The resulting decrease in capacitance is detected by sensors, enabling the controller to determine the touch point.
This touchscreen is made using a panel of glass that is embedded with transparent electrode films and an integrated circuit chip, which creates a three-dimensional electrostatic field.

When contact is made with the screen, it changes the ratios of the electrical currents and reveals the touch point to the controller.

This gives the touchscreen two advantages over the surface capacitive touchscreen, in that it can also be activated by a user wearing surgical or thin cotton gloves. It also allows multi-touch activation, i.e. simultaneous input from two fingers.
This touchscreen uses a series of piezoelectric (the piezo is from the Greek meaning ‘press’ or ‘squeeze’) transducers and receivers along the sides of the glass panel to cast an invisible grid of ultrasonic waves on the surface.

When the panel is touched, a portion of the wave is absorbed. The receiving transducer uses resultant point of absorption to locate the touch and send the necessary information to the controller.
Unlike the other touchscreens, this touchscreen does not overlay the display with an additional screen or create a screen sandwich.

Instead, a frame around the display that contains infrared sensors uses emitters and receivers to create an invisible grid of light beams across the screen.

When an object interrupts the beams, the sensors are able to locate the touch point.
ProsThis touchscreen has a low cost and consumes low power, can be activated by virtually any object (finger, stylus, gloved hand, pen) and is resistant to surface contaminants, such as dust, oil and moisture.This touchscreen has very good clarity, is resistant to surface scratching and contaminants, such as dust, oil and moisture.In addition to the above two advantages, this touchscreen provides excellent image clarity and is resistant to surface scratching and contaminants like dust, oil and moisture. This touchscreen provides excellent clarity and is highly durable and resistant to scratching, giving them high ‘touch life’.This touchscreen offers the highest image clarity, can detect any input and is almost impervious to surface scratching, making it great for use outdoors.
ConsLow image clarity when compared with other touchscreens, and the outer polyester film is vulnerable to wear, scratching and damage from sharp objects.Is sensitive to electromagnetic and radiofrequency interference, and only responds to the touch of a bare finger or special gloves, or a stylus that is capacitive charged.Is sensitive to electromagnetic and radiofrequency interference, and can only activated by bare finger or when wearing surgical or thin cotton gloves.Water droplets may cause false readings and any solid contaminants that collect on the screen can create ‘non-touch’ areas until they are removed.Is costly and, owing to the fact the infrared beams operate above the glass surface, prone to accidental activation. Any contaminants collecting on the screen or frame could also cause the light beams to malfunction.

Want to find out more about touchscreens and how you can use touchscreen technology in your business to provide a better customer experience? Simply talk to the team at Techware Solutions – we’re expert providers of the latest technology for businesses and home offices.

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