In my most recent post about Haptics, I mentioned about the influence of Haptics on touch screen design. While Haptics defined the user interface and sparked off the UI wars, touch screens are literally allowing you to touch the data, feel the same and interact with data in ways not even imaginable a few years ago.
With all the HLOS’s now providing API’s that allow access to the touch screen micro controller, mobile app creators are resorting to very clever ways of using the touch screens surface and HMI gestures to enrich the user experience. The touch screen market is very dynamic and has plenty of vendors vying for real estate on devices that use these screens. In the past, vendors have focused on resistive technology that over a period of several decades pervaded the UI. Resistive touch screens though not perfect did the job and overtime matured to a point where the cost curve is quite insignificant in comparison to the device. Some devices where you can spot a resistive touch screen are your neighborhood ATM, POS terminals at the grocery store etc. Any screen that requires a stylus to interact with apps, can be safely assumed to be one that is resistive. User interaction is limited to jabbing buttons on the app and maybe some typing. Essentially the technology measures the resistance at the point of finger/stylus contact and the screen micro controller then uses that change in resistance data to quickly compute the X-Y coordinates of the contact location.
On the other hand the iPhone and every other smartphone today utilize the capacitive touch screen. As a consequence, capacitive touch screen vendors have received a boost. As the name suggests, the parameter being measured here is capacitance (or rather its change) and it turns out that these touch screens allow for accurately measuring multi-point contacts. Hence, for those of you who are smartphone fanatics, this important characteristic translates into the micro-controller being able to recognize HMI gestures. This technology is not new and has finally found a vehicle that has taken it to the mass market. One must realize that the touch screen is but a component on the smartphone. It is the utilization of the same via compelling apps, which has taken the technology to new heights. And the credit for that goes to the iPhone and the brilliance of Apple in creating the app store.
Touch screen technology is rapidly evolving, thanks to the efforts companies such as Perceptive Pixel, Synaptics, Elan, Atmel, Cypress, Tyco Electronics, Stantum, Pelikon, PQ Labs and even Microsoft. Microsoft Surface, while quite unaffordable to the layperson, is quite a testament to how far we have come in interactive touch screen technology. It is bound to get better and I don’t think the day is far off where humankind will be interacting with powered glass surfaces in unimaginable ways. Screens that wrap around contours, 3-D screens, Anytime screens (works well in sunlight or any light), screens that incorporate tactile haptics (different vibrations for various tactile inputs) etc are not concepts any more.
All of these innovations will allow for one thing for sure – enhanced user experience. And if you think about it, it will literally allow you to feel the data because in the end it all boils down to “ones and zeroes” anyways. Agree?