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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hitachi to drive touch screens into mobile phones

From my story on the front page of Electronics Weekly this week, new touchscreen technology from Hitachi Displays is set to make a real difference to the way mobile phones are designed and used.
Hitachi has developed a new passive technique for touch sensing on mobile phones that does not involve the traditional sensor technologies such as resistive or capacitative sensing. This is a key area where mobile phones in particular fail and could make touch screens much more reliable for use in many different applications.
The technique uses ordinary thin film transistors (TFTs) around the edge of the screen that can detect a change in light when a finger touches the screen. Algorithms are then used to sense where the finger is. This is all integrated into the display, adding touch screen for little extra cost.
“We want to develop a touch sensor without any mechanical components,” said Matt Tapping, sales manager at Hitachi Europe. Hitachi Displays has developed a prototype system and is planning production for the end of next year.
However, at the moment this technique would not be able to handle the newer techniques such as ‘pinching’ used on the Apple iPhone (see below). “This would have to be used for soft keys,” said Tapping.
Future versions could support the more complex user interfaces I expect but that would need more transistors and more complex detection algorithms, and devices such as the iPhone will be able to support premium prices for touchscreens anyway.
But the potential of this is huge, as this technique can also be used screens for all sorts of applications including digital TV where cost and reliability of touch screens have prevented new user interface techniques being used.

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