Saturday, June 23, 2007

Following iPhone, touch-screens go mainstream

Apple's iPhone is leading a new wave of gadgets using touch-sensitive screens that react to taps, swishes or flicks of a finger. The improvements promise to be slicker and more intuitive than the rough stomp of finger presses and stylus-pointing required by many of today's devices. Glide a finger across the screen to activate the device and main menu. Slide your digit up or down to scroll through contacts. Flick to flip through photos. Tap to zoom in on a website.

With Apple's marketing machinery, the iPhone is poised to become the poster child for the new breed of touch-screen technology, which relies on changes in electrical currents instead of pressure points.

But the iPhone will have its fair share of rivals. "This new user interface will be like a tsunami, hitting an entire spectrum of devices," predicted Francis Lee, the chief executive of Synaptics, a maker of touch sensors.

Synaptics' latest technology is in a growing number of cellphones, including LG Electronics' LG Prada touch-screen phone that launched this year in Europe and South Korea and handles gesture-recognition similarly to the iPhone. Last fall, Nokia's research and development unit unveiled online images of a prototype all-touch-screen cellphone called the Aeon, but the company hasn't disclosed any details of its features or market availability.

Even before the iPhone hype kicked into high gear over the past few months, touch screens in general were becoming more popular in cellphones. But most touch-screen phones that shipped last year, including Palm's Treo and Motorola's ROKR E6, used "resistive touch" technology — the most common technology, where it has two layers of glass or plastic and calculates the location of touch when pressure is applied with either a stylus or a finger.

A more advanced type of touch screen, featured on the iPhone and LG Prada, uses "projected capacitive" technology. A mesh of metal wires between two layers of glass registers a touch when the electrical field is broken.

That's why light finger brushes will do the trick. But capacitive sensors don't even need actual physical contact: such touch screens already detect the proximity of a finger from 2 millimeters away.

read the whole article from usatoday

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