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Touchscreen technology makes it possible to interact with a computer system using direct touch of the electronic display instead of using a traditional keyboard and mouse. Learn more about touchscreen technology in this lesson.

What Is Touchscreen Technology?

Traditional input devices for computer systems include keyboards and mice. In recent years, touchscreen technology has become widely used as a way to interact with computer systems, particular for mobile devices.A touchscreen is an electronic visual display that a user can control by touching the screen with one or more fingers. A touchscreen allows for a much more direct interaction with what is displayed compared to a device like a mouse. Touchscreens have become very common on tablet computers, smart phones and other mobile devices.

Increasingly, regular laptop and desktop computers use touchscreen displays so users can use both touch as well as more traditional ways of input.

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The Technology Behind It

The idea of using a touchscreen goes back to the early days of computing in the 1960s. Most systems remained very experimental until the 1990s, when a number of commercial systems became successful.The first major technology that became successful is resistive touchscreen technology. This uses a panel that consists of several layers, including two thin, electrically charged layers separated by a thin space. By pressing on the panel, these two layers touch and the location of the connection is recorded as the input.

Resistive touchscreens are relatively cheap and very resistant to liquids. The major downsides are that you need to actually press down with a certain amount of pressure and they have relatively poor contrast. As a result, resistive touchscreens did not become widely used for computer systems but instead were developed as part as other electronic systems. For example, the display screens used in restaurants to enter orders and control panels in factories are often made of resistive touchscreens.The second major technology used in touchscreens is capacitive sensing. A capacitive touchscreen uses a layer of insulating material, such as glass, coated with a transparent conductor. The human body is also an electrical conductor, so touching the screen with your finger results in a change in the electrostatic field of the screen.

A number of different approaches can be used to record the location of the touch. One of the most common ways is to use a fine grid of capacitors, which record the change in the electrostatic field. These capacitors are organized by rows and columns, and they function independently of each other. This makes it possible to record multiple touches at the same time, known as multi-touch technology.

Multi-Touch Gestures

At a basic level, touchscreen technology works similar to a computer mouse. Instead of moving your pointer with a mouse and then clicking on a location, you press on the location with your finger. However, multi-touch technology makes it possible to interact with the computer display in many different ways.

Tasks like scrolling up and down a webpage, selecting text and drag-and-drop have become quite different using touchscreen technology. This figure shows a number of the most common single and multi-touch gestures.

Common single and multi-touch gestures
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