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Capacitive Touch-Screens Not the Wave of the Future for Most Mobile Phones

  • Posted: Saturday, December 13, 2008
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  • Author: pradhana
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  • Filed under: Smartphone

When Apple’s iPhone transformed the public’s idea of how a mobile handset should work, one of its most impressive – and apparently disruptive – features was its slick touch-screen interface. While resistive touch screens activated by physical force had been around for years, the iPhone’s was different: it was of the capacitive type, activated by a finger’s electrical charge.

The great appeal of this interface led many in the industry to conclude that they had seen the future of most mobile handset displays. But according to ABI Research director Kevin Burden, nothing could be further from the truth. “The reality is that existing operating systems, legacy applications, and regional aspirations make the change to capacitive screens for many devices very challenging.”

Applications written for some of the high-end operating systems powering smartphones such as Windows Mobile and Symbian don’t lend themselves to capacitive navigation: there is a long legacy of third-party applications designed for five-way navigation, keypad, or stylus touch input. A change to capacitive screens would make it difficult to ensure continuity and backward compatibility.

Cost is also a major issue: resistive screens are far less expensive than capacitive.

But the most important single factor supporting the continued use of resistive screens is the huge opportunity in the Asian market and its need for screens that support handwriting recognition input with a stylus. A capacitive screen or QWERTY keyboard just won’t suffice in markets like China, given the nature of its alphabet.

“Capacitive screens will continue to make inroads into high-end models,” concludes Burden, “but with the overall market volume still primarily in midrange devices, the resistive screens in devices in this tier will continue to keep resistive technology far ahead of capacitive.” [ABI Research]

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