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Why do we need capacitive touchscreens?

Well, you found us out. Deep down in our heart of hearts, we don't like resistive touchscreens. And we don't like you if you do. Yep. That's our big secret. (For those keeping score at home, we also don't like broccoli, counties that don't follow Daylight Savings Time, and drivers who use the parking brake on level roads.)

Folks, let's everybody take a deep breath here. Buried within an announcement of a new phone was a brief parenthetical stating that the device (unfortunately) had a resistive touchscreen. Why is this "unfortunate?" Because as the rest of the smartphone world supports capacitive screens, Windows Mobile still does not. iPhone? Yep. Android? Got it. Palm's webOS? Sure thing. (As to whatever evil creature was sacrificed to create BlackBerry's touchscreen, well ...)

If there's one thing we Windows Mobile fans are particularly proud of, it's that our operating system of choice covers just about every permutation of phone out there. Keyboard/no keyboard. Umpteen different screen resolutions at a number of DPIs. D-pad/no D-pad. 3.5mm headphone jack/stupid proprietary adapte -- well, certainly we're all on the same page on that one, right?

Point is, it doesn't matter whether you think capacitive touchscreens are better than resistive. Different strokes for different folks. We're really not advocating one way or another. It's your phone. Hell, my daily driver doesn't even have a touchscreen, so there. It's unfortunate that current Windows phones (and upcoming phones, at least for a while longer) don't have the option of using either capacitive or resistive touchscreens. That deprives you, the user, or the choice. And if you want to put up with that, well, you know where to go.

Now that we all have our knickers untwisted, sound off in the poll below, and then yell at us some more in the comments.

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Reader comments

Why do we need capacitive touchscreens?

42 Comments

Exactly. No good reason given in favour of capacitive vs resistive on a WM phone other than that the competitors have it. And are we really to believe that we would be given a choice of screen technology when buying a device? Which manufacturer is going to offer the same device with two differing screen technologies?

Please tell us, if a WM phone is reviewed and it is found to have a responsive screen, that isnt enough? The TP2's screen responsiveness has been praised, yet still reviewers blindly call for capacitive despite the fact that they themselves say the screen is responsive and totally glossing over the disadvantages of capacitive.

If you want to present a case for capacitive, please do so on its technical merits and not merely on the fact that you just want WM to be on of the herd.

Agreed... While I thank WMexperts for putting out an article after they had been asked to, it doesn't explain the pro's and con's of either.

Now, no one has been saying that MS shouldn't open WinMo up to be able to use capacitive screens, but that we were tired of reviewer whining because the phone didn't HAVE a capacitive screen, when the screen it had was perfectly fine.

Well now that HTC patented the capacitive stylus I won't mind going with a capacitive screen. I guess if I'm using gloves with the phone I can always just pull out the stylus and use it then, unlike the iPhone.

I guess it's rather "WTF?". It'd nice if you could choose capacitive touchscreens, but the world doesn't end if a device has resistive ones.

I'd love a 3rd solution that would combine the precision and optional stylus usage of a resistive touchscreen with the finger responsivenes of a capacitive one. HTC made some steps in that direction, but it's still far from perfect...

i was at my desk crying reading this :(
WE NEED CAPACITIVE DISPLAYS IN NORTH AMERICA!!!
all the responsive phones make me VERY sad.
i want my phone to be ULTRA responsive. not just "good enough"!!
its a reason the other phones are doing so much better than ours guys!
wake the hell up!
what is the common denominator between ours and the rest????

I've had iPhone lovers remark at how nice the screen is on my Touch Pro many times... Responsive, clear, easy to use...

To me, the only advantage of the capacitive screen is the multitouch capabilities. I dont see the advantage of trying to use two fingers on a mobile screen at once. It would be awesome on something like HPs Touchscreen media center PCs, but a phone is too small for it to be really functional. I see it more as a sales gimmick than a useful function. I would rather have the option of a stylus (and cold weather use).

multitouch is not very important to me... but responsiveness of the screen of course. Capacitive screen is 100% responsive while resistive screen is about 90% responsive only..

I am always dreaming and dreaming WM with capacitive touch screen.

We certinely should have capacitive screens. I don't see why the author shouldn't express his lack of enthusiasm for resisitive screens in some of his articles. The harsh truth is that not everyone gives a damn about using a phone with gloves or handwriting recognition, so don't shoot him for wanting choice on a platform known for just that.

No one here is against choice, but is against blindly whining for a change in screen tech when there is no benefit.

What a awful poll.... i was gonna put capacitive but then u said that about the stylus - gosh just make the poll simple you've overcomplicated it and it sucks plus it doesnt even work

I don't understand, what's to stop WM having a capacitive screen, hell it doesn't even need a touch screen at all, so surely if someone wanted to make a WM phone with capacitive screen they could. Or am I missing something.

You're missing something.

Windows Mobile doesn't support Capacitive technology. Windows mobile is a dated OS and Microsoft apparently embraces outdated technology. Even Winmo 6.5 (a minor update at best) doesn't support Capacitive.

Talk about backwards thinking.

Explain to me Will how resistive is a dated technology?

Unless you are talking about something other than capacitive that I don't know about, resistive still has pro's over capacitive, therefore it surely is not dated.

there should have been a vote for having a choice. I see the advantage of both, like you said, let consumers choose and not be limited by the os.

On top of not caring about capacitive screens, I don't care about the 3.5mm jack, either. I've never used the one on my Xperia, and I'd probably never find a use for one on a future phone.

I see both sides very well from what everyone one is writing including that of the author Phil Nickinson.(By the way Phil, you have written several articles that I enjoy reading and for this I thank you) I'm way behind everyone else on this whole debate though.
I still can't figure out why phone developers simply refuse to include fundamental features that most people seem to enjoy such as a flash on a camera phone. Hell I just use it as a flash light but do so enough that I don't see why some new phones have it while some don't. Or, why make the Palm Pre with a camera and no video capability. Even freebie phones have video capability. I'm not talking about the complex things that like capacitive vs resistive or one processor over another just simple things.

I've tried using the capacitive screen on an iphone and I don't much like it. Or perhaps more likely, it doesn't much like my skin. I have to get a LOT of surface area in contact with the screen before it registers, making it impossible to see what I'm doing. The touch screen on my Touch Pro is actually much more responsive (for me anyway). Plus, I LIKE using the stylus for entering text (using Calligrapher) and for drawing diagrams. I would be a very unhappy camper loosing that ability.

I'm with Jeff on this. Resistive rocks. You can use your finger, fingernail, stylus, pencil, pen, stick, etc. Capacitive ? Only your finger. It uses more processing circuitry and more battery power. So how is this better ?! And btw, multi-touch is not exclusive to capacitive displays, just hasn't been implemented on resistives yet.

Yeah, try using remote dekstop on a capacitive screen... It just doesn't work...

Even on the Touch Pro without a stylus it isn't very fun.

Actually, the shame is that Windows Mobile is incapable of supporting Capacitive technology. Embrace the old? Even Symbian is capable of supporting either technology.

Resistive screens have their uses. But on a mobile phone, they're garbage.

You resistive fanboys can continue to use your stylus and your grossly long fingernails to manipulate your screen. Just don't start crying when the display doesn't respond or you accidentally select something you don't mean to.

I don't have any of those issues, and generally use my fingers for 90% of my needs. However, there are times when I simply need the stylus.

I agree, they should support capacitive screens, however people like you should understand that capacitive in someways is much worse than resisitive.

OK, according to Will lets all take our resistive WM, Symbian, UIQ, Palm handsets and throw them all in a landfill. Because the Touch HD, Touch Diamond, Samsung Omnia II, Touch Pro 2, Nokia N900, Imate Jam, HTC Universal, etc are ALL garbage and that's where garbage goes, isnt it?

To each his own, i don't think capacitive works, unless you have a touch enabled gui to back it up...even so its not perfect i find touch typing on a resistive screen more accurate, but for the type of swiping guesstures, nothing beats a capacitive screen. Can't we just all get along?

Neither technology is perfect, both have their limitations..

Capacitive also doesn't seem quite as suited for devices with smaller screens (the GUI designs take up a lot of real estate too). Not every phone has a 3.5"+ screen...

We need Stantum resistive tech. Engadget served up a great video about it: http://tinyurl.com/aezjb4

Resistive is exceptionally capable when properly equipped. Plus anything, and I mean anything, can be used to poke at the screen...

If WM phones are going to do away with tactile controls like D-Pads (a foolish move), they should at least go to screens that are more responsive to finger touch. And since they can't, stop copying Apple's hate of buttons.

I understand, but I personally like the lack of buttons. The more of the device that is devoted to screen, the better IMHO.

I always thought that if the Dell Axim x51v could have had a phone built in, it would have been one of the best smart phones... Big, VGA screen... It still takes some getting use to the 2.8" tiny one the Touch Pro comes with.

I have an HTC G1 running Android, and I miss the stylus. The people who use their phones only for entertainment, don't need a stylus. You don't need a stylus to listen to music or run fart apps. But business users will prefer one.

Weak. So WM phones need capacitive screens because the iPhone, Pre and G1 have them? Conspicuously absent in the inventory are devices from RIM and Nokia, which happen to sell the lion's share of smartphones worldwide.

I've owned a Pre and an iPod Touch, and remain unimpressed with capacitive touchscreens. If given a choice between multitouch and flick scrolling on the one hand, and the ability to use my nails or a stylus on the other, I'd choose the latter in a heartbeat.

I don't even like using the stylus, but there are still a few apps and use cases where having a stylus is a benefit -- drawing and notetaking apps, for instance.

One commenter mentioned resistive proponents having (or implicitly needing) long nails. On the contrary, I'm a nail-biter and have short nail, but some of WM 6.1's UI elements are more conducive to thumbnail precision than thumbtip gestures.

The author fails to consider any legitimate reason why resistive technology remains the de factor standard for touchscreen phones outside of the US (which accounts for only 1 out of every 6 cell phones sold, and 1 out of 3 smartphones).

Many consumers in non-western markets need a stylus for text entry to be practical. There's no equivalent of a physical or virtual qwerty layout. Companies like Taiwanese HTC naturally prioritize these markets.

It's also worth remembering that the European and Asian press don't pay nearly as much attention to TechCrunch and Engadget and US tech writers do, and are less self-conscious about expressing a contrary opinion.

Finally, the UI of WM 6.1 (an early builds of 6.5) aren't finger-friendly by design. The OK button in 6.1 is in the upper right-hand corner of an app, requiring an uncomfortable thumb extension to press it (the latest build of 6.1, thankfully, puts it on the lower left). Menu-driven interfaces weren't designed with thumb gestures in mind.

Correction: The latest build of *6.5* has the OK button on the bottom left.

I had a chance to take to some of the WM 6.5 and 7 developers at this year's CTIA. The reason there's no CTS WM phone out right now is because manufacturers of WM phones don't believe WM 6.1 and earlier versions are CTS ready. In it's current form the stock WM interface can't be fully navigated easily by touch with a finger alone. Obviously both WM 6.5 and 7 are meant to rectify the situation and I fully expect CTS WM phones to become available as the newer versions of the OS become established.

First lets clear up two misconceptions:

- That HTC patented a "capacitive" stylus. They didn't. They patented a stylus with a magnetic tip. Not only was the patent laughable for its concept nature and lack of details, it said nothing on how it would work, making only a vague reference to the iPhone. The only value of this "patent" is to again demonstrate the sad state of the patent system.

- CTS doesn't use more power than RTS.

Right now I carry a phone, the HTC Diamond2, that's close to state-of-the-art for RTS. I'm glad it has a stylus for those situations in WM 6.1 where my fat figures would make a mess of things. However, I do realize there a cost: reduced sensitivity to figure input (my D2 simply doesn't compare in that department to my over year-old iPhone 3G) and a softer, flexible, and therefore scratch-prone screen. Obviously I didn't make the choice of which phone I carry on a day-to-day basis based on CTS vs. RTS.

Easy fix for the scratching issue is of course a screen protector, but I also like the give as it is less chance of cracking something.

I find it funny the way WMExperts love to throw in snarky little digs at iPhones in their articles, yet have been completely taken in by the Apple fanboys' "Resistive = old & busted, Capacitive = new hotness" rubbish.

Resistive is a perfectly good technology which does not suffer from the numerous limitations of capacitive tech. This "out with the old, in with the new" attitude is just silly.

Particularly with the state of Windows Mobile as it is, it doesn't matter how many sexy, finger friendly UI upgrades MS makes to 6.5. There are still countless applications which remain finger unfriendly and would be completely unusable on a capacitive screen.

Wow. First and foremost, you all kick some serious arse. Great discussion going on, and that makes me all warm and fuzzy. Well, that and a nice glass of wine. Either way, you all deserve a round of applause, and a few replies from yours truly.
The technical merits of resistive vs. capacitive: While they are important, I don't particularly care. My brain's full enough as it is these days. All I care about is the experience I have when finger/stylus/whatever meets screen. And in that sense, I completely agree with theefman when he asked: "If a WM phone is reviewed and it is found to have a responsive screen, that isn't enough?" Absolutely.
Repeat: I don't care which you prefer.
I care about you having a good experience with whatever kind of touchscreen you have. As for the pros and cons? I'm not sure how much we can add to that discussion. We've all been using resistive touchscreens for years -- and they absolutely have improved. I'll assume most of us have at least experienced an iPhone or iPod Touch and their resistive screens. Your experience may differ from mine. And I'm OK with that.
Multitouch: Maybe I'm still trained in my old resistive ways (again, I say "old" because it's been a year since I've even used a touchscreen phone full time), but multitouch isn't that big a deal for me. I routinely use an iPod Touch at home. Love the screen (most of the time -- it can be quirky), hate having my fat fingers in the way all the time. Pinch and zoom is cool for some things. But playing Metal Gear Solid with my fingers all in the way just wasn't fun. Having the option to use a stylus is important. Don't believe me? Hop on over Asia (so I'm told, anyway). Still don't believe me? Read Andre Kibbe's excellent response again. (Though I disagree with his premise of "need.")
@aerajan: Only "several" articles? ;-)
Keeping up with the Joneses: Of course we referenced smartphone platforms that have capacitive touchscreens. To what else would we compare our current phones? Look, there's friendly ribbing that goes on in these tech circles. We're not Switzerland. Sometimes that bleeds into the editorial content, maybe when it shouldn't. Usually it's done for entertainment purposes. We're all passionate about our tech, but it needs to be fun, people!
So as we again climb off this soapbox, I'll again remind you all what I believe this is about: Having the option available. Windows Mobile's current ability offer so many options is its biggest asset. And, yes, it's often a burden. (It sure as hell can be tough on those of us who to try to cover dozens of phones from a number of manufacturers.)
That said, capacitive screens most likely are coming. Will resistive screens be killed off? I don't know. Should they be? Probably not. But I'm of the opinion that Windows Mobile is headed in a direction in which we all will be proud. It likely won't be as popular as the iPhone. That bar's been set pretty high.
I, for one, will settle for this: When our friends and colleagues on other smartphone platforms see the new fare coming forth and say, "You know what? That Windows phone has some pretty cool features. I'm not sure if it's for me, but I'm going to check it out." There will be things about it they like. And there will be things they don't. That's just the way it is. But. They. Will. Try.

Thanks for taking the time to read up on all the comments and respond!

I really do not understand the need for this article. The HTC Leo is a Windows Mobile device with a capacitive touch screen that is supposedly coming out this fall and the Zune HD has a capacitive touch screen and will be out September 15th. The Zune HD also supports multi-touch. So obviouly Microsoft has already added support for capacitive touch screens and multi-touch. Eindows Mobile products supporting capacitive touch screens are just right around the corner.

CTS, at this stage, is a toy, and enables some cool gee-whiz gestures. It's also responsible for getting proper surfaces like glass onto mobile devices, which I have to applaud, regardless of its functionality.
RTS is a more mature technology and sees a huge range of implementations from awful to slick indeed, but has a lot of development to go in order to meet the needs of both markets - the problem with styli is that we have no way of scaling the input device and taking advantage of pointy things.

CTS is a nuisance, as far as I'm concerned. The hype factor is pushing it, barely-formed, into all manner of markets it doesn't belong in. Personally, I want an active digitizer instead of a resistive stick stylus, so I can actually use the tool as it's intended when I need to, combined with some sort of responsive, gee-whiz-friendly interface for the gross movements and navigation.

Further confounding the issue, the screens are too damned small to get worked up over in the first place.

I use a Samsung Epix (i907), which has a miserable RTS but I don't have to care since 90% of my navigation relies on the optical trackpad, which is brilliant. Unfortunately, the number of devices bearing useful (not d-pad) secondary input devices is miniscule, and I don't want to get stuck with a device without it.

Resistive screen is way better I think. I could not see myself sitting in a meeting taking notes using only my fingers. I would feel uncomfortable and people might think i am texting. I always use the stylus on my Imagio, writing in notepad rather than typing in meetings.