Touchscreens are on the rise. Since their origins in the 1970s, they”ve become more and more popular. You can now find touchscreens in smartphones, tablets, computer monitors, smart wearables, human machine interfaces (HMIs) and other consumer and commercial electronics. A study conducted by Pew Research found that 77% of U.S. adults own a smartphone — and that’s just one of many types of touchscreens.

Regardless of the type, all touchscreens support touch-based commands. You can control them using a finger, or in some cases, a stylus. With that said, touchscreen commands typically fall under one of the following categories.

Single Touch

Single-touch commands are exactly what they sound like: touch-based commands that involve a single point of contact. Touchscreens feature a display with an integrated touchscreen interface. When turned on, you’ll see icons or other visual elements on the display. You can tap these icons and visual elements to control the touchscreen. Single-touch commands, as the name suggests, involve a single point of contact. Tapping an icon or visual element with a single finger or stylus is considered a single-touch command.

Multi Touch

In addition to single-touch commands, there are multi-touch commands. Multi-touch commands are distinguished from their single-touch counterparts by involving two or more points of simultaneous contact. Multi-touch technology was pioneered by the University of Toronto in the early 1980s. Prior to this period, touchscreens only supported single-touch commands. Multi-touch technology opened the doors to new touchscreen applications by allowing users to control the devices with two or more points of simultaneous contact.

Pinch to zoom is an example of a multi-touch command. Most smartphones and tablets support pinch to zoom. You can pinch the display with two fingers to zoom in. You can also expand the display by pinching outward to zoom out.


Touchscreens often support swipe commands as well. Swipe commands involve swiping the display with a single finger or stylus. If you’re reading a book in an app, for instance, you may be able to progress to the next page by swiping the display to the left. Alternatively, you can go back to the previous page by swiping the display to the right.

While all touchscreens support single-touch commands, they may or may not support multi-touch commands. If you’re looking to buy a new touchscreen, you should consider whether it supports multi-touch commands. Many capacitive and resistive touchscreens support multi-touch commands. Alternative technologies, though, may only support single-touch commands.