Resistive vs. Capacitive Touchscreens

Resistive vs. Capacitive Touchscreens

You may have wondered before what the difference is between a resistive and a capacitive touchscreen. And you may have questioned which one is best for your situation. Chances are, you have experienced both resistive and capacitive technology, but you may not have known what they were called, or considered the technological implications behind them. Then again, you might know all about capacitive and resistive touchscreens and the advantages and disadvantages to each. If you do, perhaps you can chime in on the discussion.

However, if you have found your knowledge of resistive vs. capacitive technology to be somewhat wanting, then read on, and hopefully you’ll learn a few things today.

Let’s make sure we’re starting off on the right foot here, so we all understand the basic technology behind resistive and capacitive touchscreens.

The Technology Behind Resistive Touchscreens

Resistive touchscreens rely on the pressure of your fingertip—or any other object—to register input. They consist of two flexible layers with an air gap in-between. In order for the touchscreen to register input, you must press on the top layer using a small amount of pressure, in order to depress the top layer enough to make contact with the bottom layer. The touchscreen will then register the precise location of the touch.

The Technology Behind Capacitive Touchscreens

Rather than relying on pressure, capacitive touchscreens instead sense conductivity to register input—usually from the skin on your fingertip. Because you don’t need to apply pressure, capacitive touchscreens are more responsive than resistive touchscreens. However, because they work by sensing conductivity, capacitive touchscreens can only be used with objects that have conductive properties, which includes your fingertip (which is most ideal), and special styluses designed with a conductive tip.

cell phone

Prevalence of Resistive vs. Capacitive Touchscreens

Currently, resistive touchscreens are more prevalent in the rugged handheld industry, while capacitive touchscreens are more common among consumer devices, like cell phones. Resistive touchscreens have historically been a popular choice for rugged handheld manufacturers for a number of reasons. However, capacitive technology is looking more appealing as of late, due to the many benefits it offers. In designing our newest handheld, the Archer 2, we weighed these benefits and felt strongly that capacitive technology has a lot to offer the rugged handheld industry, which is why we went with a capacitive touchscreen on the Archer 2.

For a quick comparison, here are a few of the advantages of each type of technology.

Advantages of Resistive Touchscreens:

Stylus versatility: Because resistive technology is based on pressure, you can use anything for a stylus; you don’t need a special capacitive-tipped stylus.

Higher sensor resolution: Resistive touchscreens have a higher number of sensors per square inch, therefore, a finer tip will work better on resistive touchscreens than capacitive touchscreens. This is important when an application’s buttons are fairly small, making a fine-tipped stylus more desirable.

Will register fewer inadvertent touches: While in many cases, a capacitive touchscreen is preferred over a resistive screen for its greater responsiveness and sensitivity, there are some instances where this greater sensitivity may not be desirable. Resistive touchscreens may be preferred when inadvertent touches on the screen are anticipated—such as when liquids may be present on the touchscreen (I’m thinking in the rain, for example), since a resistive screen will not pick up the light touches of the liquid.

To accommodate for this on the Archer 2’s capacitive touchscreen, we are developing touch profiles which offer different settings to optimize the touchscreen for different scenarios, such as when a user wants to reduce the sensitivity of the touchscreen in cases like I just described.

Resistive has been the norm: Because resistive technology has historically been the norm among rugged handhelds, Windows Mobile apps have been designed for resistive touchscreens, incorporating small icons which work well with a fine-tipped stylus, but not as well with a larger fingertip. This also happens to be a major factor that has kept rugged handheld manufacturers sticking with the resistive touchscreen, rather than transitioning to a capacitive.

While software developers are working to design apps that are more capacitive touchscreen-friendly, we have provided an interim Hold-to-zoom feature on the Archer 2 which accommodates for any especially small icons and makes it easier to press them with your fingertip. We’ve also optimized the Archer 2’s home screen and icons for its capacitive touchscreen, so they are larger and easier to access.

Less expensive (at least, for now): In the past, resistive touchscreens have usually been less expensive than capacitive touchscreens, which is another reason many rugged handheld manufacturers have stuck with resistive technology. Now that capacitive touchscreens are becoming more prevalent, however, they are becoming more affordable.

Advantages of Capacitive Touchscreens:

Archer 2 Rugged Handheld

Great durability: Generally, the touchscreen is the most vulnerable part on a handheld device, and one advantage of capacitive touchscreens is that they tend to be more rugged than resistive touchscreens, especially under heavy use. Heavy users may find that frequently-used areas on a resistive touchscreen start to wear down and may become unresponsive. Capacitive touchscreens don’t have this issue.

In particular, the touchscreen on the Archer 2 is especially rugged, even as far as capacitive touchscreens go. Made with chemically-strengthened glass, the screen is incredibly resistant to scratches and other damage. While the touchscreen can act as an Achilles’ heel for most rugged handhelds, the touchscreen on the Archer 2 is actually one of its strongest points.

Reliability: If a capacitive touchscreen does happen to be pierced or broken, it will most likely continue to work as usual. Think about all the cracked smartphone screens you’ve seen people using. The screen can be shattered, and yet it still continues to function. On the other hand, resistive touchscreens will in most cases stop working if any part of the screen is damaged.

This is an important advantage of capacitive touchscreens because it allows a field worker to continue to collect data until they can get their screen repaired, whereas with a resistive touchscreen, a field worker may have to forego further data collection until the screen is fixed.

Future-proofed: Because the technology industry is trending more and more towards capacitive technology, using a capacitive touchscreen on the Archer 2 will help ensure a smooth transition to, as well as compatibility with, future advancements.

Multi-touch capability: Capacitive touchscreens are more suited to multi-touch capability, which means that they can easily register more than one input at a time. So when the time comes that the operating system will allow it, you’ll be able to “pinch to zoom,” on a capacitive touchscreen, whereas resistive touchscreens are extremely limited in this regard.

A few other notes about the Archer 2’s capacitive touchscreen:

Capacitive touchscreens, like the one on the Archer 2, were optimized to use with a fingertip. However, we do ship the Archer 2 with a capacitive-tipped stylus, should you need one, and we are continuing to test styluses for maximum performance. While we recommend using your fingertip with the Archer 2 if possible, if you do choose to use a stylus, be sure to take advantage of the touch profiles we have provided to experience the best results possible.

We also encourage partners to take advantage of the Archer 2’s larger display size in designing their software, which will make it easier to use the apps with a fingertip.

While both capacitive and resistive technologies have their pros and cons, we anticipate the rugged handheld industry will continue to transition to capacitive technology, and we expect to see the design trends of Windows Embedded apps follow suit. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below or contact Juniper Systems to learn more.

10 Comments

  1. This is an excellent description and assessment of those two technologies. Anyone working with handhelds out there in the field should read this article.

    As almost always in rugged computing technology, what works best is relative. It always depends on the device, the application, the software, the expectations, and so on.

    Over the years, one conclusion I’ve come to many times is how important it is to properly match hardware and software. Windows, which has dominated the computing landscape for going on 20 years, was designed for use with a mouse, and that was the root of the problem for any attempt to make it work well with any other input method. On the other hand, the iPhone took off so spectacularly because Apple brilliantly matched capacitive multi-touch with its iOS, and Android followed in its footsteps.

    As pointed out, we now have this odd situation of virtually all smartphones using capacitive touch on iOS or Android, whereas almost all industrial and vertical market handhelds still use mobile versions of Windows with resistive touch. There are numerous reasons for that, but, on the vertical market side of things, it’s obviously a situation still in flux.

    Juniper is to be congratulated for analyzing this issue as thoroughly as it did, and I agree with going with capacitive touch for the Archer 2. Its implementation will undoubtedly evolve, but it was the right choice.

  2. The greatest article I have seen by far regarding this topic. Thank you!

  3. Hello, Josh Egan! I don’t completely know the difference is between a resistive and a capacitive touchscreen until reading your post! Thanks for your sharing!

  4. Thanks for your detail article.
    I think, both Resistive and Capacitive Touchscreens have own advantages and depend on types of device, hardware and software, users can choose a right technology.
    To me, I prefer capacitive touch than resistive touch.

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  6. That’s article specify the detail and I know more better .It is helpful for me my next step for my writing .

  7. Chris Woodward says:

    I think that this article is very descriptive and informative. However it doesn’t seem to address working in the rain.
    my capacitive touch screen had several problems when it had standing water on it.

    for working in the rain, I will choose resistive.
    Thanks for the article. now I know why one works better in different conditions.

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