A touch screen is a display device that allows users to interact with a computer using their finger or stylus. They're a useful alternative to a mouse or keyboard for navigating a GUI (graphical user interface). Touch screens are used on various devices, such as computer and laptop displays, smartphones, tablets, cash registers, and information kiosks. Some touch screens use a grid of infrared beams to sense the presence of a finger instead of utilizing touch-sensitive input.
Touch screen history
The idea of a touch screen was first described and published by E.A. Johnson in 1965. In the early 1970s, CERN engineers Frank Beck and Bent Stumpe developed the first touch screen. The physical product was first created and utilized in 1973. The first resistive touch screen was developed by George Samuel Hurst in 1975 but wasn't produced and used until 1982.
What computers support a touch screen?
Today, all PCs support the ability to have a touch screen, and most laptop computers allow users running Microsoft Windows 10 to use a touch screen. Also, many all-in-one computers are capable of using a touch screen. Computer manufacturers with touch screen products include Acer, Dell, HP (Hewlett-Packard), Lenovo, Microsoft, and other PC manufacturers.
There are also some high-end Google Chromebooks with touch screens. However, to help keep the costs lower, many Chromebooks do not have touch screens.
To help keep costs lower, not all computers and laptops come with a touch screen. If a touch screen interests you, ensure it's mentioned in the product specifications. The computer likely does not have a touch screen if it's not listed.
How do I make my computer screen a touch screen?
If your laptop screen is not touch-capable, there is no way to change the screen to a touch screen. The laptop must have a touch screen when originally purchased to have that functionality. When purchasing a laptop, and you want touch screen functionality, check if it includes a touch screen before buying.
If your desktop computer monitor is not touch-capable, there is no way to change the monitor to a touch screen. You need to purchase a new monitor that includes touch functionality. Before purchasing a new monitor, verify the operating system on your computer also supports a touch screen.
Mac computers and the macOS currently do not have or support a touch screen.
How do you use the touch screen?
Not all touch screens have the same functions, but the actions below are the most common.
Double-tap - A double-tap can have different functions depending on where it is utilized. For example, double-tapping the screen zooms the view centered at the tap location in a browser. Double-tapping in a text editor selects a word or section of words.
Drag - Pressing and holding your finger on a movable object, such as an icon, you can drag your finger to "pull" the object to a different location. The same action, used with text, lets you highlight text. Lift your finger when you are done moving or highlighting.
Swipe - Swiping your finger across the screen scrolls in a certain direction or changes the page. For example, pressing your finger at the bottom of the screen and quickly moving it up (swiping) scrolls the screen down. See our swipe page for further information and related links.
Pinch - Placing two fingers on the screen in different spots and then pinching them together zooms in. Pinching your fingers together and moving them away from each other zooms out on the screen. See our pinch-to-zoom page for further information on this term.
Why is a touch screen an input device?
Any computer device (including a touch screen) that takes input from the person operating the device is considered an input device. How you use your finger on a touch screen is similar to how you use a computer mouse on a desktop computer.
How is a touch screen different than a mouse?
One of the most significant differences between a mouse and a touch screen is the ability to hover. Almost all touch screens can only detect input when your finger is in direct contact with the screen. However, a computer mouse uses a cursor that allows the user to view the information by moving the pointer over an object but not clicking it. For example, this link to Computer Hope shows the text "Visit the Computer Hope Page" when hovered over using a computer mouse. However, a user with a touch screen cannot see this text because it opens the link if they place their finger on the link.
Some web pages and apps may simulate the hover feature by making the first tap do the hover feature and the second tap open the link or app. Also, some Apple devices use Force Touch, which offers features similar to hovering.
Where are touch screens used?
Today, the touch screen is a popular type of input device. Below are some places and examples where touch screens may be used.
- All-in-One computer
- Arcade game
- ATM (automated teller machine)
- Car GPS (Global Positioning System)
- Car stereo
- Cash register
- Digital camcorder
- Electronic whiteboard
- Factory machine
- Fitness machine
- Gas station
- Grocery self-checkout machine
- Handheld game console
- In-flight entertainment screen
- Large interactive screen
- Medical equipment
- POS (point of sale) machine
- Sewing machine
- Signature pads
- Ticket machine
- Touch screen printer
Why are touch screens used?
- Touch screens are intuitive, especially for younger generations of users.
- Having one touch screen instead of several buttons can make a device smaller.
- Cheaper to design and manufacture a device with one screen instead of one with a screen and buttons.
Touch screen technologies
Not all touch screens are the same. Different technologies allow a user to interact with a screen. Some technologies may work with only your finger, while others may allow other tools, like a stylus. Below is a brief description of each of these technologies.
A capacitive touch screen is coated with a special material that stores an electrical charge monitored by circuits at each corner of the screen. When you touch a capacitive touch screen, a small amount of the electrical charge is drawn from the point of contact to indicate where you touched the screen.
You must use your bare finger or a specially designed capacitive stylus to use a capacitive screen. Most users experience this type of screen technology when attempting to use a smartphone touch screen while wearing gloves and cannot do anything.
There are specially designed gloves that allow one or more fingers to interact with a capacitive screen.
A resistive touch screen is coated with a metallic electrically conductive and resistive layer that detects the pressure of your finger or another object. This technology is often more affordable than capacitive but can be damaged by sharp objects touching the screen.
Surface acoustic wave
A SAW (surface acoustic wave) or surface wave touch screen sends ultrasonic waves and detects when the screen is touched by registering wave changes. This technology is more advanced than the other two but does not work with hard materials and can be affected by outside elements.
Infrared touch screens utilize a matrix of infrared beams transmitted by LEDs with a phototransistor receiving end. The infrared beam is blocked when a finger or other object is near the display. That interruption gives the device input to where your finger or another object is positioned.
Do touch screens have a keyboard?
Touch screens utilize a virtual keyboard to input letters and numbers, allowing users to tap the virtual keys with their fingers. Also, devices like smartphones and tablets have voice recognition for inputting information into the device.