Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login


Ask a question about 'Multi-touch'
Start a new discussion about 'Multi-touch'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

In computing
Computing is usually defined as the activity of using and improving computer hardware and software. It is the computer-specific part of information technology...

, multi-touch refers to a touch sensing surface's (trackpad or touchscreen
A touchscreen is an electronic visual display that can detect the presence and location of a touch within the display area. The term generally refers to touching the display of the device with a finger or hand. Touchscreens can also sense other passive objects, such as a stylus...

) ability to recognize the presence of two or more points of contact with the surface. This plural-point awareness is often used to implement advanced functionality such as pinch to zoom or activating predefined programs.

In an effort of disambiguation or marketing classification some companies further breakdown the various definitions of multi-touch. An example of this is 3M
3M Company , formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation based in Maplewood, Minnesota, United States....

 defining multi-touch as a touch-screen's ability to register three or more distinct positions.


The use of touchscreen
A touchscreen is an electronic visual display that can detect the presence and location of a touch within the display area. The term generally refers to touching the display of the device with a finger or hand. Touchscreens can also sense other passive objects, such as a stylus...

 technology to control electronic devices pre-dates multi-touch technology and the personal computer. Early synthesizer and electronic instrument builders like Hugh Le Caine
Hugh Le Caine
Hugh Le Caine was a Canadian physicist, composer, and instrument builder.Le Caine was brought up in Port Arthur in northwestern Ontario...

 and Bob Moog experimented with using touch-sensitive capacitance sensors to control the sounds made by their instruments. IBM
International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...

 began building the first touch screens in the late 1960s, and, in 1972, Control Data released the PLATO IV computer, a terminal used for educational purposes that employed single-touch points in a 16x16 array as its user interface.
One of the early implementations of mutual capacitance touchscreen technology was developed at CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research , known as CERN , is an international organization whose purpose is to operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory, which is situated in the northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border...

 in 1977 based on their capacitance touch screens developed in 1972 by Danish electronics engineer Bent Stumpe. This technology was used to develop a new type of human machine interface (HMI) for the control room of the Super Proton Synchrotron
Super Proton Synchrotron
The Super Proton Synchrotron is a particle accelerator of the synchrotron type at CERN. It is housed in a circular tunnel, in circumference, straddling the border of France and Switzerland near Geneva, Switzerland. The SPS was designed by a team led by John Adams, director-general of what was...

 particle accelerator.

In a handwritten note dated 11 March 1972, Stumpe presented his proposed solution – a capacitative touch screen with a fixed number of programmable buttons presented on a display. The screen was to consist of a set of capacitors etched into a film of copper on a sheet of glass, each capacitor being constructed so that a nearby flat conductor, such as the surface of a finger, would increase the capacity by a significant amount. The capacitors were to consist of fine lines etched in copper on a sheet of glass – fine enough (80 μm) and sufficiently far apart (80 μm) to be invisible (CERN Courier April 1974 p117). In the final device, a simple lacquer coating prevented the fingers from actually touching the capacitors.

Multi-touch technology began in 1982, when the University of Toronto
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, situated on the grounds that surround Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King's College, the first institution of higher learning in Upper Canada...

's Input Research Group developed the first human-input multi-touch system. The system used a frosted-glass panel with a camera placed behind the glass. When a finger or several fingers pressed on the glass, the camera would detect the action as one or more black spots on an otherwise white background, allowing it to be registered as an input. Since the size of a dot was dependent on pressure (how hard the person was pressing on the glass), the system was somewhat pressure-sensitive as well.

In 1983, Bell Labs
Bell Labs
Bell Laboratories is the research and development subsidiary of the French-owned Alcatel-Lucent and previously of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company , half-owned through its Western Electric manufacturing subsidiary.Bell Laboratories operates its...

 at Murray Hill
Murray Hill, New Jersey
Murray Hill is an unincorporated area within portions of both Berkeley Heights and New Providence, located in Union County in northern New Jersey, United States....

 published a comprehensive discussion of touch-screen based interfaces.
In 1984, Bell Labs engineered a touch screen that could change images with more than one hand. In 1985, the University of Toronto group including Bill Buxton
Bill Buxton
William Arthur Stewart "Bill" Buxton is a Canadian computer scientist and designer. He is currently a Principal researcher at Microsoft Research...

 developed a multi-touch tablet that used capacitance rather than bulky camera-based optical sensing systems.

A breakthrough occurred in 1991, when Pierre Wellner published a paper on his multi-touch “Digital Desk”, which supported multi-finger and pinching motions.

Various companies expanded upon these inventions in the beginning of the twenty-first century. The company Fingerworks
FingerWorks was a gesture recognition company based in the United States, known mainly for its TouchStream multi-touch keyboard. Founded by John Elias and Wayne Westerman of the University of Delaware in 1998, it produced a line of multi-touch products including the iGesture Pad and the TouchStream...

 developed various multi-touch technologies between 1999 and 2005, including Touchstream keyboards and the iGesture Pad. Several studies of this technology were published in the early 2000s by Alan Hedge, professor of human factors and ergonomics at Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

. Apple acquired Fingerworks and its multi-touch technology in 2005. Mainstream exposure to multi-touch technology occurred in 2007 when the iPhone
The iPhone is a line of Internet and multimedia-enabled smartphones marketed by Apple Inc. The first iPhone was unveiled by Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, on January 9, 2007, and released on June 29, 2007...

 gained popularity, with Apple stating they 'invented multi touch' as part of the iPhone announcement, however both the function and the term predate the announcement or patent requests, except for such area of application as capacitive mobile screens, which did not exist before Fingerworks/Apple's technology (Apple filed patents for in 2005-2007 and was awarded with in 2009-2010). Publication and demonstration using the term Multi-touch by Jefferson Y. Han
Jefferson Y. Han
Jefferson Y. Han is a research scientist for New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and one of the main developers of "multi-touch sensing," which unlike older touch-screen interfaces was able to recognize multiple points of contact.Jeff Han also works on other projects...

 in 2005 predates these, but Apple did give multi-touch wider exposure through its association with their new product and were the first to introduce multi-touch on a mobile device.
Microsoft's table-top touch platform Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface is a multi-touch product from Microsoft which is developed as a software and hardware combination technology that allows a user, or multiple users, to manipulate digital content by the use of gesture recognition. This could involve the motion of hands or physical objects. It was...

, which started development in 2001, interacts with both the users touch and their electronic devices.
Similarly, in 2001, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) began development of a multi-touch, multi-user system called DiamondTouch
The DiamondTouch table is a multi-touch, interactive PC interface product from Circle Twelve Inc. It is a human interface device that has the capability of allowing multiple people to interact simultaneously while identifying which person is touching where...

, also based on capacitance but able to differentiate between multiple simultaneous users (or rather, the chairs in which each user is seated or the floorpad the user is standing on); the Diamondtouch became a commercial product in 2008.

Small-scale touch devices are rapidly becoming commonplace, with the number of touch screen telephones expected to increase from 200,000 shipped in 2006 to 21 million in 2012.

Brands and manufacturers

Apple has manufactured numerous products using multi-touch technology; most prominently including its iPhone
The iPhone is a line of Internet and multimedia-enabled smartphones marketed by Apple Inc. The first iPhone was unveiled by Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, on January 9, 2007, and released on June 29, 2007...

 smartphone and iPad
The iPad is a line of tablet computers designed, developed and marketed by Apple Inc., primarily as a platform for audio-visual media including books, periodicals, movies, music, games, and web content. The iPad was introduced on January 27, 2010 by Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs. Its size and...

 tablet. Additionally, Apple also holds several patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

s related to the implementation of multi-touch in user interfaces Apple additionally attempted to register "Multi-touch" as a trademark
A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or...

 in the United Stateshowever its request was denied by the United States Patent and Trademark Office
United States Patent and Trademark Office
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.The USPTO is based in Alexandria, Virginia,...

 because it considered the term generic
Genericized trademark
A genericized trademark is a trademark or brand name that has become the colloquial or generic description for, or synonymous with, a general class of product or service, rather than as an indicator of source or affiliation as intended by the trademark's holder...


Multi-touch sensing and processing occurs via an ASIC
ASIC may refer to:* Application-specific integrated circuit, an integrated circuit developed for a particular use, as opposed to a customised general-purpose device.* ASIC programming language, a dialect of BASIC...

 sensor that is attached to the touch surface. Usually, separate companies make the ASIC and screen that combine into a touch screen; conversely, a trackpad's surface and ASIC are usually manufactured by the same company. There have been large companies in recent years that have expanded into the growing multi-touch industry, with systems designed for everything from the casual user to multinational organizations.

It is now common for laptop manufacturers include multi-touch trackpads on their laptops, and tablet computer
Tablet computer
A tablet computer, or simply tablet, is a complete mobile computer, larger than a mobile phone or personal digital assistant, integrated into a flat touch screen and primarily operated by touching the screen...

s respond to touch input rather than traditional stylus input and it is supported by many recent operating system
Operating system
An operating system is a set of programs that manage computer hardware resources and provide common services for application software. The operating system is the most important type of system software in a computer system...


A few companies are focusing on large-scale surface computing rather than personal electronics, either large multi-touch tables or wall surfaces. These systems are generally used by government organizations, museums, and companies as a means of information or exhibit display.


Multi-touch has been implemented in several different ways, depending on the size and type of interface. The most popular form are mobile devices, tablets
Tablet computer
A tablet computer, or simply tablet, is a complete mobile computer, larger than a mobile phone or personal digital assistant, integrated into a flat touch screen and primarily operated by touching the screen...

, touchtables and walls. Both touchtables and touch walls project an image through acrylic or glass, and then back-light the image with LEDs.

  • Multitouch Capacitive Technology
    • Surface Capacitive Technology
      Capacitive sensing
      In electrical engineering, capacitive sensing is a technology based on capacitive coupling that is used in many different types of sensors, including those to detect and measure: proximity, position or displacement, humidity, fluid level, and acceleration...

    • Projected Capacitive Touch (PST)
    • In-cell: Capacitive
  • Touch Resistive Technology
    • Analog Resistive
      Resistive touchscreen
      In electrical engineering, resistive touchscreens are touch-sensitive computer displays composed of two flexible sheets coated with a resistive material and separated by an air gap or microdots. There are two different types of metallic layers. The first one is Matrix, which is a striped electrodes...

    • Digital Resistive or In-Cell: Resistive
  • Multitouch Optical technologies
    • Optical Imaging
      Optical imaging
      Optical imaging is an imaging technique.Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light used in imaging.Because light is an electromagnetic wave, similar phenomena occur in X-rays, microwaves, radio waves. Chemical imaging or molecular imaging involves inference...

       or Infrared technology
    • Rear Diffused Illumination (DI)
    • Infrared Grid Technology (opto-matrix) or Digital Waveguide Touch (DWT)™ or Infrared Optical Waveguide
    • Frustrated Total Internal Reflection (FTIR) or Diffused Surface Illumination (DSI) / Dispersive Signal Touch (DST)
    • Kinect
    • In-Cell: Optical
  • Touch Wave Technologies
    • Surface Acoustic Wave
      Surface acoustic wave
      ]A surface acoustic wave is an acoustic wave traveling along the surface of a material exhibiting elasticity, with an amplitude that typically decays exponentially with depth into the substrate.-Discovery:...

    • Bending Wave Touch (BWT)
  • Force-Based Sensing or Near Field Imaging (NFI)

The optical touch technology functions when a finger or an object touches the surface, causing the light to scatter, the reflection is caught with sensors or cameras that send the data to software which dictates response to the touch, depending on the type of reflection measured. Touch surfaces can also be made pressure-sensitive by the addition of a pressure-sensitive coating that flexes differently depending on how firmly it is pressed, altering the reflection. Handheld technologies use a panel that carries an electrical charge. When a finger touches the screen, the touch disrupts the panel's electrical field. The disruption is registered and sent to the software, which then initiates a response to the gesture.

In the past few years, several companies have released products that use multi-touch. In an attempt to make the expensive technology more accessible, hobbyists have also published methods of constructing DIY touchscreens.

Popular culture references

Popular culture has also portrayed potential uses of multi-touch technology in the future, including several installments of the Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise...


The television series CSI: Miami
CSI: Miami
CSI: Miami is an American police procedural television series, which premiered on September 23, 2002 on CBS. The series is a spin-off of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation....

introduced both surface and wall multi-touch displays in its sixth season. Another television series, NCIS: Los Angeles make use of multitouch surfaces and wall panels as an initiative to go digital. Another form of a multi-touch computer was seen in the film The Island
The Island (2005 film)
The Island is a 2005 American science fiction/thriller film directed by Michael Bay and starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. It was released on July 22, 2005 in the United States, and was nominated for three awards including the Teen Choice Award....

, where the professor, played by Sean Bean
Sean Bean
Shaun Mark "Sean" Bean is an English film and stage actor. Bean is best known for playing Boromir in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and, previously, British Colonel Richard Sharpe in the ITV television series Sharpe...

, has a multi-touch desktop to organize files, based on an early version of Microsoft Surface. Multitouch technology can also be seen in the James Bond
James Bond (film series)
The James Bond film series is a British series of motion pictures based on the fictional character of MI6 agent James Bond , who originally appeared in a series of books by Ian Fleming. Earlier films were based on Fleming's novels and short stories, followed later by films with original storylines...

 film Quantum of Solace, where MI6 uses a touch interface to browse information about the criminal Dominic Greene. In an episode
Mypods and Boomsticks
"Mypods and Boomsticks" is the seventh episode of the twentieth season of The Simpsons and first aired on Fox, November 30, 2008. Homer becomes suspicious of Bart's new Muslim friend, Bashir, and decides to invite his family for dinner; having offended them, Homer goes to their home to apologize...

 of the television series The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

, when Lisa Simpson
Lisa Simpson
Lisa Marie Simpson is a fictional main character in the animated television series The Simpsons. She is the middle child of the Simpson family. Voiced by Yeardley Smith, Lisa first appeared on television in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987. Cartoonist Matt Groening...

 travels to the underwater headquarters of Mapple to visit Steve Mobs
Steve Jobs
Steven Paul Jobs was an American businessman and inventor widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. He was co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc...

, the erstwhile pretender to the throne of Mapple is shown to be performing multiple multi-touch hand gestures on a large touch wall.

A device similar to the Surface
Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface is a multi-touch product from Microsoft which is developed as a software and hardware combination technology that allows a user, or multiple users, to manipulate digital content by the use of gesture recognition. This could involve the motion of hands or physical objects. It was...

 was seen in the 1982 film Tron
Tron (film)
Tron is a 1982 American science fiction film written and directed by Steven Lisberger, and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It stars Jeff Bridges as the protagonist Kevin Flynn; Bruce Boxleitner in a dual role as security program Tron and Tron's "User", computer programmer Alan Bradley; Cindy...

. It took up an executive's entire desk and was used to communicate with the Master Control computer.

The interface used to control the alien ship in the movie District 9
District 9
District 9 is a 2009 South African science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James...

features such similar technology.

Microsoft's Surface was also used in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 film)
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 2008 science fiction film, a remake of the 1951 film of the same name. The screenplay is based on the 1940 classic science fiction short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, and the 1951 screenplay adaptation by Edmund H...


In the film Minority Report
Minority Report (film)
Minority Report is a 2002 American neo-noir science fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg and loosely based on the short story "The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick. It is set primarily in Washington, D.C...

, Tom Cruise uses a set of gloves that resemble a multi-touch interface to browse through information.

See also

  • List of multi-touch computers and monitors
  • Gesture recognition
    Gesture recognition
    Gesture recognition is a topic in computer science and language technology with the goal of interpreting human gestures via mathematical algorithms. Gestures can originate from any bodily motion or state but commonly originate from the face or hand. Current focuses in the field include emotion...

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Pen computing
    Pen computing
    Pen computing refers to a computer user-interface using a pen and tablet, rather than devices such as a keyboard, joysticks or a mouse....

  • Multi-touch gestures
  • Natural User Interface
    Natural user interface
    In computing, a natural user interface, or NUI, is the common parlance used by designers and developers of computer interfaces to refer to a user interface that is effectively invisible, or becomes invisible with successive learned interactions, to its users. The word natural is used because most...

  • Sketch recognition
    Sketch recognition
    Sketch recognition is the automated recognition of hand-drawn diagrams by a computer. Research in sketch recognition lies at the crossroads of Artificial Intelligence and Human Computer Interaction...

  • Surface Computing
    Surface computing
    Surface computing is the term for the use of a specialized computer GUI in which traditional GUI elements are replaced by intuitive, everyday objects. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, the user interacts directly with a touch-sensitive screen...

  • Tenori-on
    Tenori-on is an electronic musical instrument, designed and created by Japanese artist Toshio Iwai and Yu Nishibori of the Music and Human Interface Group, Yamaha Center for Advanced Sound Technology. It consists of a screen, held in the hands, of a sixteen by sixteen grid of LED switches, any of...

  • Touchpad
    A touchpad is a pointing device featuring a tactile sensor, a specialized surface that can translate the motion and position of a user's fingers to a relative position on screen. Touch pads are a common feature of laptop computers, and they are also used as a substitute for a mouse where desk...

  • Touch user interface
    Touch user interface
    A touch user interface is a computer-pointing technology based upon the sense of touch . Whereas a graphical user interface relies upon the sense of sight, the TUI enables not only the sense of touch to innervate and activate computer-based functions, it also allows the user, particularly those...

  • Sensomusic Usine

External links