More and more touchscreen devices now feature multi-touch support. As the name suggests, this technology allows users to perform commands using two points of simultaneous contact instead of just one. While a traditional touchscreen device may only support a single point of contact, multi-touch devices support multiple points of contact. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the technology, you’ve probably used it before. One of the most common examples of multi-touch technology is pinch to zoom — using two fingers, you pinch the screen inwards to zoom in on the page or app, or you can pinch it outwards to zoom out.

History of Multi-Touch Technology

The iPhone is one of the first mainstream devices to feature multi-touch technology. Released by Apple in 2007, the company’s flagship smartphone supports multiple points of contact. Apple even went so far as to say that it “invented” multi touch. According to Wikipedia, however, multi-touch technology had been around for quite some time prior to the 2007 version iPhone. It’s believed that researchers from CERN and MIT developed multi-touch technology while working on a project. The technology has since made its way into other applications, including smartphones, tablet computers and human machine interfaces (HMIs).

How Multi-Touch Technology Works

There are different ways for devices to support to multiple points of contact. Some device us capacitive sensing, whereas others use resistive touch sensing. The primary characteristic defining all multi-touch devices, however, is that they support multiple points of simultaneous contact. Normally, though, multi-touch devices feature a transparent layer over a backlight that’s used to illuminate the panel. If it features capacitive technology, only a user’s finger or capacitive stylus will work with it. If it uses resistive technology, a bare finger, gloved finger or any stylus will work with it.

Benefits of Multi-Touch Technology

You might be wondering why so many devices today feature multi-touch technology. Just a decade ago, this technology was relatively unheard of, with the exception of the iPhone. Now, however, most smartphones and tablets — as well as certain HMIs and other control systems — feature multi-touch technology.

For starters, multi-touch allows a device to support more input commands. There are only so many different commands a user can perform using a single point of contact. By supporting multiple points of simultaneous contact, the device can register more commands. Furthermore, multi-touch technology is the perfect solution for zooming in and out of the display, which is the most common use for the technology.