What is a Capacitive Touch Screen?

Laura M. Sands

A capacitive touch screen is a unique interactive viewing screen commonly found in smart phone technology. Using handheld devices employing this technology, users only have to touch the screen on a smart phone to issue commands. The capacitive touch screen is able to follow commands by detecting electrical charges unique to the human body.

Capacitive touch screens allow users to issue commands to a smart phone by touching the screen.
Capacitive touch screens allow users to issue commands to a smart phone by touching the screen.

Besides smart phones, touch screen technology is often used on automated teller machines, credit and debit card payment machines, tablet PCs and self-checkout machines located in grocery stores. A capacitive touch screen enables users to communicate with specific computers by hand without using a computer mouse or a special stylus. Such brings an element of convenience and style to computing devices, as the need for additional buttons or peripheral devices is almost completely eliminated. The technology used in creating touch screens is also very accurate and can distinguish the skin of a hand from a gloved hand or another instrument.

A cell phone with a touch screen.
A cell phone with a touch screen.

Apple’s iPhone was the first popular handheld device to employ capacitive touch screen technology. As public enthusiasm for this innovative tool grew, other handheld phones, such as those using Google’s Android operating system, embraced this new technology as it quickly grew to be a consumer preference amongst handhelds. Select phones featured among Research In Motion’s line of BlackBerry smart phones also employ a capacitive touch screen.

Many tablet computers use capacitive touch screens.
Many tablet computers use capacitive touch screens.

There are three different types of touch screen technologies used in creating smart phones and other touch screen computing devices. Besides capacitive touch screen technology, devices also sometimes feature either resistive or surface acoustic touch screens. In resistive technology, a resistive surface coated in metallic responds to pressure when a command is issued by hand or a stylus. Surface acoustic wave technology is a more costly and complex format that relies on sound waves moving across a screen’s glass to produce sounds that direct sensors to follow specific commands.

Capacitive touch screen technology differs from resistive and surface acoustic wave technology in that it responds to multi-touch commands. By doing so, users are able to type text or commands into a device without having to wait for each touch to register. While touching on any of these three technologies is fast and accurate, multi-touch commands issued on a capacitive touch screen are more attractive to frequent smart phone users who are likely to type multiple letters, numbers or commands while dialing, emailing, chatting or sending a text message on a wireless device.

Apple's iPhone was the first popular device to use a capacitive touch screen.
Apple's iPhone was the first popular device to use a capacitive touch screen.

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Discussion Comments


I just saw a catalog when I was on an airplane that offered leather gloves for people with smartphones. Each index finger of the glove had a metallic tip, so you could wear them and still use capacitive touch screen phones.

I thought it was a little bit ridiculous, actually, but I guess it makes as much sense as anything. I don't suppose leather would be very conductive after all.

But, they were very expensive. I wonder if that might be a niche a crafts person could tap into, making cheaper gloves that will work with smartphones. So many people have them now, it would probably be worth trying.


I read a story recently where a shopkeeper was trying to explain to a man how the touch screen on his phone worked, and why it wouldn't work if he touched it with a pen.

Of course, it wouldn't work because the pen is plastic, and didn't conduct the electricity the touch screen monitor needed.

The man was astonished at the revelation that people had electrical currents in them. And then he started blaming the technology!

He thought that because we have been using so many electrical devices, it has made us slightly electrical as well.

I don't know if the story is true, but I guess it could be. People don't realize that we need electricity for our nerves to function properly... not to mention our smartphones!

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