Uncover the origin and principle of iPhone multi-touch technology

Finger touch

Although multi-touch technology has only recently attracted public attention, its technology origin can be traced back at least 25 years ago. The University of Toronto and Bell Labs were the two main research institutions in this field.

The earliest multi-contact technology model was born in 1982 at the University of Toronto. The medium used at that time was a frosted glass plate. When the finger touched the frosted glass plate, images of different sizes were formed due to different pressures. These images are captured by a camera placed behind the media and analyzed by a computer. In 1983, Bell Labs published the first paper exploring the use of touch screen input (Soft Machine). This idea was later fully realized on the iPhone.

In 1984, Bell Labs pioneered the design of a multi-touch touch screen system. The basic principle is that by integrating the fluorescent screen and the touch screen, the user can interact with the image displayed on the screen through the touch screen with the finger. Almost at the same time, the University of Toronto has developed a multi-touch touch panel system, but the principle is very different from Bell Labs. It uses capacitive sensing. When the pressure is applied to different positions of the touchpad, its capacitance distribution changes. This change is converted into input information by computer analysis.

In the early 1990s, the legendary Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in the history of personal computing made new breakthroughs in multi-touch technology. This includes scaling and converting the image with two fingers. In addition, they also tried to put a touch screen on the reverse side of the keyboard, and the user can easily implement the touch operation by simply using the keyboard in reverse.

In 1992, IBM and the Southern Bell Telephone Company jointly developed a smart phone called "Simon." The phone used the full-screen software keyboard operation for the first time, which became the prototype of the iPhone. At the same time, Japan's Wacom has also developed a multi-touch input panel that supports many technical features including two-hand operation and pressure experience.

From the late 1990s to 2003, research universities and companies such as the University of Toronto, Microsoft, and Sony and Toshiba made significant progress in multi-touch technology. In 1993, IBM introduced the first tablet PC (Tablet PC) that incorporates many features of multi-touch technology. Although tablets have not been mainstream, it has attracted more people's interest in new ways of human-computer interaction. Ten years later, Microsoft's tablet operating system has promoted the standardization of multi-touch input technology to a certain extent.

It is worth mentioning that Jeff Han Lab of New York University. In 2005, they successfully used the principle of frustrated total internal reflection when light passed through different media, and designed a low-cost and high-sensitivity multi-contact system through diode sensing of different light intensities.

Mainstreaming efforts

By 2007, multi-touch technology was introduced to the market for the first time in all directions. There are iPhone and iPod Touch that are currently in use, as well as Microsoft's upcoming coffee table computer. These two product lines introduce multi-touch technology that has been in development, development and demonstration for more than 20 years into the mainstream consumer electronics industry for the first time.

To a certain extent, the iPhone is a modern version of "Simon" developed by IBM and BellSouth 15 years ago. Jobs referred to the multi-touch technology used on the iPhone with the mouse and iPod's click wheel and called Apple's three most important technological innovations.

Although some people on the Internet think that the iPhone's technology comes from the invention of Jeff Han, in fact, the only thing related to the iPhone is the small company that Apple acquired in 2005, called "Fingerworks", which produces a full software display keyboard. It was created by two professors at the University of Delaware who later joined Apple. But the company's technology is just a display keyboard and does not include multi-touch technology. So it is very likely that Steve Jobs realized the huge market potential of this technology after discovering the multi-touch technology demonstrated by researchers such as Jeff Han in 2005, and developed and designed a similar technology. The acquisition of Fingerworks is just a step in Apple's efforts to increase the speed of launching products.

In the history of computer development, input technology has lagged behind other computer technologies. The keyboard and mouse have always been the main input method. Although Gates has always had a soft spot for voice input technology and Microsoft has invested a lot of money in this area, but until now, voice input is still not perfect for the public to widely use. Now it seems that as the iPhone gradually penetrates into the market, multi-touch technology may be able to make breakthroughs in this area, and eventually become the mainstream technology.

However, regardless of its future development, it is certain that multi-touch technology will not completely replace the existing input methods including mouse and keyboard, and it is more likely to work with existing input methods to further facilitate our people on different occasions. Machine interaction requirements. Keyboards and mice have their natural advantages when interacting with personal computers, and the development of multi-touch technology seems to be more suitable for the input needs of non-general computers. The iPhone's performance in the personal user smartphone market is a good example.

As a standard configuration of the computer, the mouse has been invented since 1965, and in 1995, with the popularity of Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system became the mainstream mainstream input device, a total of 30 years. Multi-touch technology has been in development for 25 years, so it may take at least another few years to see the popularity of this technology.

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