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Do I need to consider integrating multi-touch into the next generation of my touch products? – Joe Kennedy, New Mexico

Dear Joe:

Touch guy recalls, as a young lad, seeing the brand new and largely passenger free 747’s landing at LAX – this was called the Judas Goat phenomena because no self-respecting airline would be without the behemoth, even though they hardly had enough money to buy one and there was not enough passengers to fill one.

The same concept applies to touch screens. Multi-touch projected capacitive has rapidly grown to be the second largest selling touch-technology (behind analog resistive), even though, other than pinch and expand, there are hardly any software programs that make use of all those fingers. Microsoft has demanded 10-finger touch with lightening quick response to even be considered worthy of being certified.

So, yes, Joe, I do not even have to ask what your product is, you have to do it, and hope that the need comes – just like the passengers that eventually filled the 747’s… There are two real and important reasons why you need to do it, the most important is that projected capacitive will not wear out and the second is that the image quality is really excellent. Add to that, the prices are expected to fall by 50% sometime this year and you have everything you need to make the plunge. And if your application requires pressure sensing (screwdrivers, long fingernails and scalpels), you can now pick the MARS multi-touch product.

Until next time,
Touch Guy

How should I pick a touch screen company? – Confused in Schenectady

Dear Confused:

Touch Guy is honored that you would pick him to say anything other than, “the only name you need to know is Touch International!” And Touch Guy will admit, after reflecting upon your question, coming up with an answer was daunting. There are more than 100, possibly as many as 200 touch screen companies around the world. They range from companies that focus on selling fully integrated systems all the way to “village” companies that somehow sell 4-wire touch panels at prices below the material cost.

First, because you are asking the question, Touch Guy will assume you are probably working on your first touch project and have not yet been swayed toward or against a specific touch solution (this is good because that means you have an open mind). To start, narrow down the types of touch technology that seem best for you. Read my white paper, “Choosing the Right Touch Technology,” check out products similar to yours to see what they use and then it is off to the web to search for suppliers. While there are several of types of touch, resistive, capacitive and IR have long been the top solutions. Less used but still common are acoustic and optical (camera). Resistive still rules but most new projects use the iphone-type technology called projected capacitive.

The touch screen business is very competitive so apples-to-apples pricing will not vary much. For complicated designs and touch-neophytes, the US suppliers are probably best and for routine, higher volume products, the Taiwanese are going to come through for you. For price, the Chinese suppliers will be your best choice but I suggest waiting until your second project to go that route.

In shorter words, see what your competitors are using, read about touch, call a supplier in your region, and find someone who sounds like they want to help!

Wow, that was a hard question.

Until next time,
Touch Guy

Do I have to use special software to use my touch screen? – Sandy Claws

Dear Sandy:

Wanting to keep things simple, Touch Guy’s answer is “No and Maybe” (this is my new alternate answer to the usual, ‘It depends’). For those of you using a USB-connected system, the touch screen will look like a mouse to your software and because virtually all software works with a mouse, nothing is required. For Windows 7, the touch screen will look like a digitizer or several digitizers to accommodate multi-touch (one for each touch occurring at the same time) and nothing new is required to do all of the cool gestures like pinch, rotate and shrink. Similar multi-touch support is available for Linux operating systems and some versions of CE (though XP embedded comes with fewer headaches). The technical term for this magic is HID Compliant (HID=Human Interface Device) or in the case of Win7, Windows 7 Tablet Compliant. All of Touch International’s USB projected capacitive systems are compliant and will work without having to do anything extra.

The “Maybe” answer comes in to play when systems still run on serial (RS232) connections which require a driver to allow the touch screen to communicate with the software. A touch screen generates an X and Y coordinate (and in some cases a Z). The driver looks at the touch coordinate and then looks at the “hot spot” or the place where the mouse cursor was left on the screen. Next the driver moves the mouse cursor with up/down and right/left “mickeys” to the location of the touch and issues a mouse click. And Jiminy Christmas, the touch works with any software! Touch drivers also allow you to control other things such as calibrating the touch screen to different size displays, controlling how hard or light you have to touch the screen, enabling right button clicks and eliminating the mouse cursor from the screen.

Happy Holidays and remember… my touch screens make great gifts!!

Until next time,
Touch Guy