It’s something we already take for granted: when we touch an icon on the screens of our electronic devices, we expect something to happen. And not just anything, either; we anticipate our gadgets to do exactly what we want it to do, when we want it done, and all at the touch of a fingertip. It was not too long ago that touchscreen technology was a source of wonder. Today, touchscreen technology is a given for most of the latest gizmos—from tablet computers to GPS units.
While most of us use this technology on a daily basis, most of us do not know how it works. How does a screen know what to do when we touch an icon? There are various types of touchscreen technologies but they all function based on a similar idea.
This is the most common form of touchscreen technology. Resistive touchscreens are coated with an electrically conductive layer. Your fingertip changes the electrical current whenever you touch it. This delivers a message to the device’s controller telling it what action you would like to perform. This technology is more affordable than other touchscreen technologies and also less sensitive.
Surface wave touchscreen
Another popular form of touchscreen is the surface wave model. This type of screen relies on ultrasonic waves that pass across the touchscreen panel. When you touch the panel, you absorb a part of the wave. Again, this sends information to the device’s controller, which in turn tells the device what you want it to do.
Devices that rely on capacitive touchscreens tend to have the sharpest image quality. Capacitive touchscreens are coated with a material that sends a continuous electrical current across the sensor. The good news is, the body is also a form of electrical device. Consequently when you touch the screen you absorb some of the current. The device registers this disruption, causing it to send information to its controller. The device will then perform the action which you requested.
It’s a good thing we don’t have to grasp the touchscreen technology to enjoy it. But it is nice to have a grasp, if only slightly, on how a technology works that we use everyday, particularly as we know that touchscreen technology isn’t going away any time soon.