Understanding Multi-Touch Technology

Posted on 02, May, 2023

Last Modified on 25, August, 2023

Ever wonder how your smartphone, iPad, tablet, or laptop can sense input, allowing you to zoom or rotate using multiple finger gestures? Most of it is thanks to multi-touch technology, and now digital signage kiosks also employ it to produce collaborative, interactive experiences for users.

We want to help you understand the basics of multi-touch technology — how it works, the differences between the two main technologies on the market, IR and capacitive, and their application in digital signage. Let's dive in!

What Does Multi-touch Technology Mean?

At first, touch screen devices could only detect one point of touch and execute one touch action at a time. In time, the technology advanced to allow users to conduct more intricate gestures on their touch screen devices with multi-touch functionality. As their name suggests, 10-point touch screens can detect up to 10 separate points of input at once, which makes motions like swipes and multi-finger gestures possible. Many popular digital signage devices now feature 10-point or more touch screens.

Advantages of Multi-Touch Digital Signage Devices

Multi-touch/10-point technology has many advantages compared to single and two-point touch screens, including:

Multi-Touch Technology
  • Efficiency: Multi-touch technology allows multiple people to use a device simultaneously, or for a single user to use multiple fingers for complex inputs. It streamlines workflow and promotes collaboration on shared projects in educational environments or during sales demos, which can improve efficiency, save time and help your bottom line.
  • Flexibility: Multi-touch technology allows for the creation and support of highly customizable applications and games that require more complex gestures on the surface.
  • User-Friendliness: Multi-touch technology is intuitive; it hardly ever requires training, especially since it is widely used in today’s smartphones. It is expected behavior when a customer approaches a digital kiosk. Despite being highly sophisticated behind the screen, multi-touch provides a user-friendly interface on the surface

Infrared Touch Screens vs Capacitive Touch Screens

Now that we know what multi-touch technology is, let’s talk a little more about the differences under the hood. While touch technology has been developed in many ways, there are two types of touch screen technologies you might see while shopping our digital signage: infrared (IR) and projected capacitive (PCAP). While the average person might not know how to distinguish between the two, especially at a glance, they are very different in terms of architecture and design.

Infrared Touch Screens

To put it succinctly, infrared touch screen technology (IR) constantly emits invisible LED light beams in a grid pattern. When receptors detect that the LED beams are being disrupted by contact on the surface (by your finger or a stylus for example) it is able to detect where the touchpoint is taking place by pinpointing the coordinates on the grid.

Some of the advantages of infrared touch screens include:

  • Affordability: IR touch panels are relatively inexpensive when scaled up to larger size screens compared to PCAP.
  • Can Be Used with Gloves: Since IR technology just needs an opaque object to block the light, they work when wearing all types of gloves. This makes them a preferred choice in some commercial environments.
  • Durability: Since they operate using light sensors, IR touch screens offer superior resistance against micro-scratches that could affect the functionality of other types of touch screens if they are not using a protective coating.

Capacitive Touch Screens

Capacitive touch screens, on the other hand, use a grid or layer of conductive material that detects changes to its electrostatic field. When you touch it, your fingertip acts as a capacitor, adding an electrical charge and signaling the location of the touchpoint to the device.

There are two major types of capacitive touch screen technology you might commonly see on the market: projected capacitive (PCAP) and surface capacitive. The main difference is that PCAP uses a grid of electrodes to detect the location, while surface capacitive applies a voltage to the surface of the conductive material and measures the location of the touch from the four corners of the device. Both are similar in concept, in that they use an electrical charge from your fingertip to locate the coordinates of the touchpoint.

Some of the advantages of capacitive touch screens include:

  • Sensitivity: Capacitive touch screens give the highest level of sensitivity and feel to touch inputs. Even with light pressure, the touch sensor reacts swiftly, which gives the user slightly better response times and leads to better control over the application they’re using.
  • Immune to Foreign Objects: Since capacitive touch screens use electrical charges as inputs, they are less prone to being activated by a shirt sleeve or other unintended objects. Of course, the drawback here is that they must be used with bare fingers or specialized gloves/styluses.
  • Sleek Appearance: Since an additional bezel is not needed on top of the glass, capacitive touch screens can be constructed with a slimmer and sleeker design.

So, What's the Difference?

While both types of technology provide great optical clarity and accuracy, capacitive touch screens tend to produce slightly better sensitivity to touch inputs, which provides a more natural experience for the user. Most smartphones produced nowadays use capacitive technology, and the general public is accustomed to using it in their everyday lives.

Since IR is less expensive to scale up to bigger screens, you might see it more commonly used in large-format digital devices, and the indifference to gloves vs. fingertips makes it a preferred choice in some commercial environments. Both technologies are industry-grade for a reason: they provide great performance and interactivity that can help your business connect your products and services with your customers.

What’s Next?

Multi-touch technology is an expected experience by customers when they interact with a digital kiosk or collaboration table, and our digital devices utilize it in a variety of innovative products. Start by shopping for the best specs and designs for your application and use the knowledge you’ve gained in this article to understand the nuances of how your touch screen will perform. What are you waiting for? Shop our touch screen kiosks today!

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