apple’s 3d touch — evolutionary perspective

The most talked about feature with 3d touch is the multi tasking ability as well as skipping of steps to go deeper into the apps. You can read all about it over the interwebs.

Let’s look at the evolutionary perspective of touch input sensors & see how it ended up with 3d touch technology & its impact for the current & future world.

Palm World & Resistive Touch screens

Palm Treo 650 were one of the best touch screen based smartphones before apple got into the smartphone business. They have a TFT resistive touchscreen(Palm Treo Specifications).

Advantages of Resistive Touchscreen
Low production cost; High resistance to dust and water; Best used with a finger, gloved hand or stylus; Best suited for handwriting recognition

Disadvantages of Resistive Touchscreen
Not too sensitive, you have to press down harder; Poor contrast because of having additional reflections from extra layer of material placed over the screen; Does not support multi-touch

iPod Click Wheel & Capacitive Touch Screens

Apple started experimenting with various input forms & got a great success through capacitative screens on the ipod click wheels. (click wheel wiki). The ipod could sense the users input via a touch sensitive ring based on capacitive sensing. They started taking the same technology to touch screen based smart phones & disrupted an entire industry.

Advantages of Capacitive Touchscreen
Because capacitive touchscreen has glass layer instead of plastic, it looks brighter and sharper; Highly touch sensitive and doesn’t need a stylus; Supports multi-touch

Disadvantages of Capacitive Touchscreen
Because the technology is dependent on the conductive nature of human body, it doesn’t work if the user is wearing gloves; Because of having a complex structure, these are quite expensive; Glass is more prone to breaking

The disadvantages of capacitive touchscreen comes with accuracy. They are precise but not accurate. Most capacitive touch screens do not respond to objects other than naked human fingers, and thus do not work with a stylus or a fingernail or a gloved hand. Because fingers are far wider than a stylus, this makes handwriting and other precise actions rather difficult. Capacitive screens are also more expensive.

Now — Accuracy & 3d touch screens

When you go through the patent document of the 3d touch sensors in apple devices (patent summary), you see that the real innovation is in bringing accuracy for capacitive touch screens. With this, smartphones & tables are no longer stuck to consumption devices. This suddenly opens up the capacitive screens for taking inputs with accuracy which was a huge gap until now.

Microsoft attending the apple event, ipad pro all fall into place because of this new sensors/technology.

The real impact of 3d touch is in converting the touch screens into content production devices. You will see an explosion of productivity/writing based apps over the next 2 years.

The reason why creation wasn’t a major thing on ipads until now was not just because of lack of apps but because of lack of underlying sensors which didn’t have accuracy.

Future — applications in automotive & healthcare (hypothesizing)

Most of the medical devices & the auto manufacturing devices were all stuck in the resistive world due to issues around accuracy. The robustness was always questioned in the input for medical/auto industries. That just changed. With these new sensors coming into play, these industries are going to undergo a change. You will start seeing dashboards that will be both consumption as well as accurate input oriented. You will start seeing enormous applications starting from an multi touch steering wheels/dashboards to medical devices plastic surfaces having 3d inputs which are both robust & accurate.

Will this bring in a lot of changes to the wearable tech? not wearable devices but wearables that have embedded sensors.

Do you see any other industries gaining an advantage with accuracy on touch screens?

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