The evolution of tactile feedback technology in user interface devices

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By Steve Baker | Jan 12, 2016
Capacitive touch for user interfaces

Tactile feedback in user interfaces is undergoing significant change as people become accustomed to the touchscreen surfaces of smartphone and tablet devices. Technology has adapted over the years from keyboards to membrane switches to touch screens.

When electronic keyboards were first introduced, they were designed to provide the same tactile feedback as a typewriter with the click and stroke of the keys known as full travel technology. As users became more accustomed to keyboards, the “click” was no longer as important and quieter keyboards entered the market.

After keyboards, the next evolution was membrane switches. These were originally seen as “cheap” alternatives because they didn’t provide the same tactile feedback as keyboards. Once metal domes were added into the product stack-up, membrane switches gained greater popularity due to the improved tactile feedback of the buttons. Now membrane switches are very common and can be seen on everything from consumer to medical devices.

Recently, touch screens have become the most sought after technology for user interface devices. As customers become accustomed to non-tactile touch technology, they expect it in a wider range of the products they use. With this shift, businesses are looking towards capacitive switch technology as a solution.

The benefits of capacitive switch technology compared to these more mature technologies are numerous. First and foremost, there are no moving parts in a capacitive switch stack-up. This means that these parts are higher quality and will have a longer life. Parts using this technology are also easier to clean without the crevices between buttons. Capacitive switch technology uses dedicated switch locations for the points of user contact and the circuit tail is connected to the motherboard of a printed assembly circuit board.

Within capacitive switch technology there are multiples types available including mutual and self. These will be examined along with the benefits of each in our next blog article.