The idea of tactile interfaces arose from the need to control air traffic at the Royal Radar Establishment research center in Malvern, United Kingdom. With the radars they needed a smooth communication, to be able to mark points accurately and react quickly to threats from enemy planes.
In 1965, Eric Johnson, one of the center's engineers, concluded that a touchable screen could improve the response capacity of workers. It was the first concept of touch screen, a technology that has progressively conquered the world of electronics.
Eric Arthur Johnson published in October 1965 his research at the Institution of Electrical Engineers where he described his work as follows:
"A novel input/output device for wired computer systems, sensitive to the touch of a finger, next to a cathode ray tube into which the computer can write information. This device, the "touch screen", provides a very efficient link between man and machine".
Using copper wires through a computer, E. A Johnson developed the necessary circuits to be able to detect when they were touched. His prototype was based on the simple idea that depending on the circuit touched, the machine would make one decision or another.
Two years later, in 1967, Johnson published a second article on the subject, more extensive and complete. This time he described how touch screen technology worked through diagrams and photos, also anticipating that this system could be used to enter characters as if it were a keyboard.
Johnson is considered the inventor of the capacitive screens, where we have a "conductive" part like the human finger, which is used to interact with the machine. The initial idea only contemplated one touch at a time and was binary, that is, it did not register pressure. In 1969, the U.S. Patent Office granted the patent for the touch screen. However, it was not until the 1990s that British air traffic controllers began to apply the technology that one of their own had invented.
The touch screen interface was invented in 1971 by George Samuel Hurst, an American physicist. They have become common in POS, ATMs and PDAs, where it is possible to use a stylus or finger to manipulate the graphical user interface (GUI) and to enter data. The popularity of smart phones, PDAs, handheld game consoles or car browsers is generating demand and acceptance of touch screens.
The vast majority of significant touch screen technologies were patented during the 1970s and 1980s and have now expired. This fact has allowed product and component designs using such technologies to become royalty-free ever since, allowing touch devices to become more widely available.
Touch screens became commercially successful because of their use in industry devices, in public computers (such as museum exhibitions, information screens, bank ATMs and others) where keyboards and mice do not allow satisfactory, intuitive, fast or accurate user interaction.
Since the end of the 20th century and especially at the beginning of the 21st century, they have become commonplace in most display devices: for example, computer monitors, cell phones and tablets.
With the growing acceptance of a multitude of products with an integrated touch screen, the marginal cost of this technology has been routinely absorbed into products that incorporate them, making them virtually disappear. As with any technology, the hardware and software associated with touchscreens has reached a point of sufficient maturity after more than three decades of development, allowing them to have a very high degree of reliability As such, touchscreens can now be found in aircraft, automobiles, consoles, machine control systems, and handheld devices of any kind.
Many of us use touch screens routinely and automatically, virtually every hour (or minute, in some cases) that we are awake and in all areas and environments to fulfill the functions of our daily work.
They are present everywhere in our homes at all times: from when we wake up to turn off the alarm clock with the touch of a finger, in the kitchen to turn on the stove or the microwave, in the living room with the TV, computer, e-book or eternally in the palm of our hands with the ubiquitous smart phone.
Even outside the home, touch screens are increasingly being used in stores and businesses for shopping and services, such as at bank ATMs or on electronic menus in fast food restaurants, to pay at the supermarket, operate machinery and even to vote in elections.