There are three components used in touch screen technology:
The touch sensor is a panel with a touch responsive surface. Systems are built based on different types of sensors: resistive (most common), surface acoustic wave, and capacitive (most smart phones).
However, in general sensors have an electrical current running through them and touching the screen causes a voltage change. The voltage change signals the location of the touching.
The controller is the hardware that converts the voltage changes on the sensor into signals the computer or other device can receive.
Software tells the computer, Smartphone, game device, etc, what's happening on the sensor and the information coming from the controller. Who's touching what where; and allows the computer or smart phone to react accordingly.
Of course, the technology works in combination with a computer, smart phone, or other type of device.
Resistive & Capacitive Explained
According to Malik Sharrieff, an show Contributor, "the resistive system is comprised of five components, including the CRT (cathode ray tube) or screen base, the glass panel, the resistive coating,a separator dot, a conductive cover sheet and a durable top coating."
When a finger or stylus presses down on the top surface, the two metallic layers become connected (they touch), the surface acts as a pair of voltage dividers with connected outputs. This causes a change in the electrical current. The pressure from your finger causes conductive and resistive layers of circuitry to touch each other, changing the circuits' resistance, which registers as a touch screen event that is sent to the computer controller for processing.
Capacitive touch screens use a layer of capacitive material to hold an electrical charge; touching the screen changes the amount of charge at a specific point of contact.
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