Touchscreens and touchpads are two of the most common control systems for laptops. They allow users to guide to select icons without a traditional mouse. Users can move their finger across the touchscreen or touchpad while tapping icons of the programs or files they with to open. Touchscreens and touchpads aren’t the same, however. While they both provide a means of input for laptops — as well as other devices — they work in different ways. What’s the difference between a touchscreen and a touchpad exactly?

What Is a Touchscreen?

A touchscreen is a multilayered interface panel that allows users to control a device through touch. They are typically used in conjunction with a display device, such as a liquid-crystal display (LCD). The display device creates visual images, which the user can touch to control it.

Touchscreens have been around for decades. Over the years, though, they’ve become more and more popular. Businesses and consumers often prefer them over traditional non-touchscreen devices. Touchscreens offer an easy and satisfying way to control devices, including laptops, tablets, human machine interfaces (HMI), infotainment systems and more.

Some of the most common types of touchscreen technology include the following:

  • Surface capacitance
  • Projected capacitance
  • Three-wire resistive
  • Four-wire resistive
  • Five-wire resistive
  • Surface acoustic wave (SAW)
  • Infrared (IR)

What Is a Touchpad?

A touchpad, on the other hand, is an input device that uses a tactile sensor to convert finger motions into commands. Touchpads are found on most laptops. They eliminate the need for a mouse by providing a similar method of control for the cursor. Rather than using a mouse, users can glide a finger across the laptop’s touchpad to move the cursor.

Most touchpads support clicking actions as well. A laptop, for instance, may feature two clickable physical buttons either above or below the touchpad. These buttons operate in the same way as the left and right buttons of a mouse. After moving the cursor over an icon, users can click the buttons mimic the clicking actions of a mouse.

Touchpads often use the same technology as touchscreens. There are capacitive touchpads, for example, as well as resistive touchpads. Capacitive touchpads work by measuring capacitance. When a user glides his or her finger over a capacitve touchpad, the touchpad’s capacitance will increase. As a result, the capacitive touchscreen can pinpoint where the user touched, thereby responding with the appropriate cursor movement.

Resistive touchpads operate using the same principles as resistive touchscreens. They don’t measure capacitance. Instead, resistive touchpads rely on pressure to determine where a user glides his or her finger.