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Who Invented Touch Screen Technology, and How Has it Affected Phone Plans?

May 22, 2015

Historians attribute the first touch screen invention to E.A. Johnson, who worked at the Royal Radar Establishment, in the United Kingdom, when he made the first breakthrough in 1963. Mobile phones and our phone plans have never been the same since incorporating touch screen technology into our daily lives.

His invention expanded upon older enabling technology that had existed for decades in some form or another, similarly to how televisions and radios rely on the invention of standardized electrical systems to operate. Touch screen technology has also gone through several iterations before assuming the format that we know today.

Touch screens of the day were either capacitive or resistive. Capacitive touch screens use the object making contact, usually a human thumb or finger, as the catalyst to register a "touch." Johnson's research belonged in this vein of capacitive technology. Resistive touch screens consisted of two layers separated by a small space to conduct an electric charge, but you needed to press much harder than on capacitive screens. The upside is that resistive screens could measure the force placed upon the touch screen.

While resistive technology had pushed out capacitive screens between the 1970s and the 1990s in the field's rather small niche, most modern smart phones actually use capacitive technology for their sharper displays, more sensitive surfaces, and the ability to register multiple points of contact at once. Can you imagine how many phone apps would be rendered unusable without multi­touch technology?

How have touch screens affected our phone plans and culture surrounding phones? Mobile phones clearly needed to become more computerized to make touch screens viable on a commercial level. It was a long way from Palm Pilots to commercial apps on iPhones and Android, but phone plans now revolve around the way that people interact with their devices. People debate the merits of major platforms according to how many apps they can use, or if certain devices' touch screens are better or worse than those with QWERTY keyboards.

The development of touch screens has gone hand in hand with the trend toward electronic personalization. Personal computers haven't been a new phenomenon for decades, and most adults between 20 and 60 have personal laptops. On the other hand, it's taken a special intersection of touch screen technology and the mass commercialization of mobile phones to reach what appears to be the apex of personalization in popular culture.

People use their touch screen phones more for apps than calls. That's not an insight in itself? however, this has led to pricier data plans. In particular, the risk of incurring roaming fees has escalated dramatically with the pervasiveness of touch screen culture.

Touch screens have also facilitated the new norm of constant connection through internet­enabled devices? social networks, GPS systems, media streaming, and news consumption have flourished with the rise of touch screens by replacing the tedium of scrolling, clicking, and technical­minded input with intuitive motions limited to touching and dragging.

The prominence of touch screens raises many questions about our lifestyles, mentalities, and culture. We'd love to hear your thoughts on touch screen technology as well, so please get in touch with us! We'd love to hear from you.

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