Tag Archives: Atmel maXTouch

Introducing the maXTouch U family

Just in time for CES 2015, Atmel has launched its next-generation maXTouch U family, bringing the world’s first capacitive touchscreen solution to allow no compromise for designing new state-of-the-art displays and true 3D user experiences. OEMs will no longer have to worry about touch and display performance when selecting thinner stacks such as on-cell, hybrid in-cell, full in-cell touchscreens utilizing very thin film and glass substrates.


The proliferation of smart devices along with the innovation in display technologies have put many new challenging requirements on touchscreen technology. These touchscreens not only have to operate with thin noisier displays, cheaper noisier chargers and numerous environmental noise sources, but also have to work with thick gloves in cold climates, moisture in humid environments and stylus for content creation.

The maXTouch U architecture is designed from the ground-up to service these requirements, enabling the highest hover distance of 25mm while cutting the touch power by 50%. This family provides full in-cell integration without requiring costly display synchronization for the OEM, enabling the fastest touch response for users compared to any competing solution today. maXTouch U series allows multi-finger operation with moisture on the screen and supports side-buttons for an easy-to-use user experience especially in camera mode. The high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) supports very thin 1mm passive and active stylus handwriting with full palm rejection for a flawless content creation experience.


“Competing touch solutions do not have the fundamental building blocks required to support the technical demands of thinner and flexible advanced displays,” said Binay Bajaj, Atmel Senior Director of Touch Marketing. “Meeting these technological demands, the new maXTouch U family is truly a testament to the team’s innovative engineering techniques. Leading OEMs are extremely excited to use this new architecture to achieve unprecedented touch performance for next-generation products.”

The mXT874U, which will be the first sampling product in this new family, puts the latest maXTouch technology into action by adding high-voltage differential signal and a powerful maXDSP in the analog front-end. The result is unparalleled signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) that enables advanced touchscreen experiences beyond just finger touching. The mXT874U supports 25-30mm finger hover tracking, up to 5.0mm gloved touch, 1.0mm passive stylus writing, touch sensing with moisture and robust common charger noise rejection. This comprehensive array of touch features will allow you to deliver flagship next-generation mobile devices with the ultimate user interface experiences consumers crave.

Those wishing to learn more about the new maXTouch U family can do so by heading over to its official page here.

Electronic Design talks touch with Atmel’s Patrick Hanley

Electronic Design Technology Editor Bill Wong recently had the chance to catch up with Patrick Hanley, Atmel Product Marketing Manager for Touch Technology, to talk about recent market trends as well as the company’s latest offerings. The interview, which was published on September 26, 2014, can be found below.


Wong: What markets does Atmel play into?

Hanley: Atmel focuses on industrial, consumer, communications, computing, and automotive markets. We provide the electronics industry with complete system solutions by leveraging one of the industry’s broadest IP technology portfolios.

Wong: The world of touch-enabled devices is skyrocketing; from the proliferation of smartphones to tablets, almost everyone wants to tap a screen even if it’s not touch-enabled. What do you think has led to the widespread adoption?

Hanley: With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the general consumer market became more comfortable and aware of capacitive touch-enabled products to infiltrate our lives. For years prior, the idea of a capacitive touch was an unfamiliar concept that consumers were less comfortable with.

Today most individuals approach all displays with the assumption it is touch-enabled. The world of touch can be seen in a vast range of formats and devices, at its most basic levels in buttons, sliders, and wheels, to more advanced touchscreens that provide multiple, true X/Y coordinates. These touch devices also reach a multitude of applications. From GPS systems to wearables to all-in-one PCs, there is a place for touch in all of these devices.

Hanley: The mXT106xT family is a continuation of our T-series family of products. It is aimed at the largest growth touchscreen market, screens between 7 to 8.9-inches. We introduced adaptive sensing, which is a hybrid of mutual- and self-capacitance. This enables the best glove, finger hover sensing and stylus support available, even in the presence of moisture. Adaptive sensing is crucial, as it enables touch classification where the touch controller is able to determine the difference between a single finger, multi-touch, glove, hover, and stylus, and reacts to the user appropriately.

We unveiled several new features including the peripheral touch controller (PTC), the first touch controller that enables capacitive button capabilities within the same controller without compromising any additional x/y-lines. The PTC improves noise immunity, eliminates external components, and simplifies the sensor design. Additional features include voltage triplers and non-HDI (high-density interconnect) packages. The voltage tripler reduces external BOM components, saving the customer space and cost. The non-HDI package enables customers to reduce PCB layers, further reducing costs.

Wong: Sounds interesting. So, we all know device features are everything, starting from the initial touch performance carrying through to everything else that influences the UI. How is Atmel aiming to continue improving these features?

Hanley: The user interface can make or break the success of a product. An intuitive, yet attractive, UI can create demand for products where customers “have to have” these new products. This is the easiest way for an OEM to differentiate their end product.

Improving stylus performance is vital for a variety of applications and vertical markets. Active stylus support is becoming a must-have for higher-end tablets, which are typically identified for professional or artistic uses. Alternatively, passive stylus support is geared toward free-writing capabilities for general users as well as everyday uses. Passive stylus support carries universal stylus capabilities, even as standard as a no. 2 pencil, ultimately revolutionizing the “pen-to-paper” experience.

Atmel also offers features like hover support. We continuously improve range and accuracy while decreasing manufacturing costs through the flexibility of new materials, as well as enable immersive features like advanced gesturing. Features such as hover empower our devices to be able to think beyond the surface, creating the next wave of smart, intuitive products.

Wong: I also see that Atmel’s maXStylus was announced earlier this year at CES. How is this transforming the “pen-to-paper” experience?

Hanley: Historically, to achieve high performance with active stylus solutions, OEMs were spending upwards of $30, adding more inductive layers to the sensor stack-up. The maXStylus is the first capacitive active stylus to provide accurate active-pen performance without an additional sensor layer. This reduces the costs for tablets, laptops, and smartphones while maintaining excellent performance. The result for the user is fewer missing strokes, false detections, longer pen hover range, and more accurate and readable letters and characters. You can even go from using the stylus to your fingers without compromising performance or battery life.

Wong: What upcoming trends and user-interface technologies are you most excited about?

Hanley: Fingerprint security is exciting. It enables improved security with ease-of-use capabilities and more. 3D gesturing is another interesting and popular technology. As seen in the film Minority Report, technologies such as 3D gesturing and motion control allow users to interact with their devices without touching it. It gives you freedom both mentally and physically.

Additionally, Atmel is the leader in sensor hubs, which enable sensor fusion. Sensor fusion leads to more accurate readings of the movements, locations, temperatures, etc., of an object, all while increasing the battery life of the product despite the always-on capabilities.

At Atmel, we believe that these technologies are allowing OEMs and developers to create best-in-class products that let industry leaders create what they have always imagined.

Wong: Atmel recently announced the latest in touch with the introduction of the mXT106xT family. Can you elaborate?

Those interested in reading the complete interview can head over to Electronic Design here. You may also want to check out Patrick Hanley’s recent post on what factors to consider when selecting your next touch-enabled device.


What will smartphones look like in 2020?

Thanks to Moore’s Law, electronic devices are increasingly packed with more power and functionality, improving our life qualities with more convenience, productivity, and entertainment. Just to put things in perspective, Steve Cichon of Trending Buffalo shows that an iPhone (assuming an iPhone 5S at the beginning of 2014, when his blog was written) can replace $3,054.82 worth of electronics sold in Radio Shack in 1991, according to a flyer post in The Buffalo News.


“It’s nothing new, but it’s a great example of the technology of only two decades ago now replaced by the 3.95 ounce bundle of plastic, glass, and processors in our pockets,” says Steve Cichon.

As cool as we think our smartphones are today, I dare to say that two decades later by 2035, when people compare their personal electronics (assuming they don’t use the term “smartphones” anymore!) against the current smartphone features, they would be amazed by how big, heavy and slow these electronics are today. If you still don’t get what I mean, take a look at this 1991 Sony Walkman Commercial, and try to recall how cool the Walkman was in 1991.

While I certainly do not have the crystal ball that tells me what kind of personal electronic devices people will be using by 2035, I would like to make a few guesses of what smartphones would look like in just 5 years, say 2020.

User Interface

I believe touchscreen [with touchscreen controllers] will still be the main user interface for smartphones by 2020. While Generation Z are called “digital natives,” I think kids who are born after Generation Z would be “touch natives.” Toddlers and young children playing with iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad today will attempt to touch all display interfaces as their way of interacting with electronics in the coming years. I also believe smartphone interfaces would expand beyond just touch, and there are two possible expansions within five years: gesture controls and voice commands.

Gesture control refers to hand or facial interactions with the smartphone.  Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (with Air View) and Amazon’s Fire Phone (with 4 corner cameras) made interesting attempts for enabling hand and facial gesture recognition, but unfortunately, these features were not very successfully adopted by consumers because they were hard to learn, limited by hardware capabilities, and unreliable or inconsistent to use. But smartphone OEMs will continue improve their designs, and smartphones will eventually be capable of reliably recognize our intentions by tracking our hand or eyeball motions, or facial expressions.

Voice command is widely popular today, but will become a lot more useful in five years. Think of Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, as cloud computing becomes more artificial intelligent with more data and computational power, they will become more dependable for average consumers to adapt. I hope that by 2020, my daily commutes with Apple’s Siri will no longer be worse than talking to my 2-year old son — Siri will help me change FM radio channels or launch a Podcast via Carplay in my dashboard. I will also be able to ask Google Now to order a pizza for me (topped with bacon, pepperoni and sausage, of course) without directly talking to the pizza-shop guy. Google Now will tell me when the pizza might arrive (based on the traffic congestion conditions), and open the door for me through my Nest, which as a Bluetooth connection to my front door’s electronic lock.


Needless to say, smartphones will be further integrated come the year 2020. Smartphone integration will follow a much similar path as the PC’s integration, except it will take place A LOT faster. Integration doesn’t always mean electronic components will disappear; rather, it can also mean that more hardware performance is integrated into the device. Today’s leading smartphones are packed with a Quad- or Octa-core Application Processor, running between 1.3 to 2.5GHz. By 2020, I’m guessing that smartphone CPUs will be 8 to 16-cores, running between 2.5-4.0 GHz range, (they probably will eat today’s Intel Core i7, designed for high-performance PCs, for lunch.)with 8-10GB RAM and 500-750 GB of storage.

I also believe smartphones will integrate more hardware components for better “context-awareness.” Today’s leading smartphones are easily packed with 10 sensors — gyro, ambient light, accelerometer, barometer, hall sensor, finger scanner, heart rate monitor, among a number of others. I think more microphones (today’s camera usually has at least two microphones) and cameras (again, at least two today) will be packed into the devices to enable improved awareness — 4, 6 or even 8 microphones and cameras are quite possible by 2020. For instance, having multiple microphones enables listening from different positions inside the phone and at different frequencies (i.e. not only voice commands); in addition, it will allow the smartphone to determine its location, its surroundings (whether inside or out) how far it is away from the voice command and even how to improve noise cancellation. Also, having multiple cameras will allow the device to better track facial expressions (Amazon’s Fire Phone is a good example), to capture better 3D and panorama images, or to refocus photos by post-processing (hTC One M8 is a good example).

Further, component-level integration will continue to happen. With increasing applications processor power, the A/P will be able to take over many digital processing from discrete components inside the phone, although I think Sensor Hub will continue to drive low-power, context-awareness tasks while the A/P sleeps.

Display Technology

Do you envision 4K displays (i.e.3840 x 2160) on your smartphone? Today, Apple’s “Retina Display” in the iPhone 5S offers a 326 pixel-per-inch, and many new smartphone displays exceed that pixel density. Smartphone displays are increasing in sizes, moving from 3.2″ and 4″ just a few years ago to 4.7″, 5.2″, 5.5″ and even 6.4”. As the screen sizes increase, as will the display resolution, while keeping the high PPI density.

I think both LCD and AMOLED displays will continue to exist in 2020, as both technologies have their advantages and disadvantages for smartphone applications. From a consumer perspective, I would expect both types of displays to improve on resolution, color accuracy (for example, Xiaomi’s latest Mi4 display has a color gamut covering 84% of the NTSC range, and that’s even better than Apple’s iPhone 5S display), power consumption and thinner assembly allowing for slimmer industrial design.

As smartphones with 2K displays be introduced by the end of 2014, it isn’t unreasonable to say that 4K displays would be used in smartphones, perhaps by or even before 2020.  However, everything has a cost, and the extra pixels that our human eye cannot resolve will consume power from the graphic engine. Would you prefer to trade off some pixel densities with longer battery life? Personally, I think we do not need a 4K smartphone screen. (And yet, I may laugh at myself saying this when we look back five years from now.)

Battery Technology

The thirst for more power is always there. With increased processing capabilities, context-awareness and better display technologies, we can only assume that future smartphones will require more power than what they are carrying today. Today’s top-tier smartphones can package a battery around 3000 mAh. That’s plenty of juice for a day, but consumers always crave for longer battery life or more powerful smartphones with longer video streaming time. Luckily, research on new battery technologies have been increased, thanks to the explosion of portable electronics. I believe there are two types of technologies that will be available and improve our smartphone experiences by 2020:

Battery with higher density: Forbes recently reported that a group of researchers at Stanford University designed a new solution to increase the capacity of existing battery technology by 400%. This is just one of the promising researches we’ve seen in recent years that could one day be deployed for mass production in just a few years. For the same size of battery that lasts for a day of use in 2014, we can expect that smartphones will last for a week without charging by 2020. On the other hand, smartphone OEMs can also select to use a smaller size battery in the smartphone, and in exchange, use the extra room inside the smartphone to integrate other components and features.

Battery with rapid charging capabilities: A gadget-lover’s dream is to get a full-charge of their smartphones within 5 minutes of charging. Today, UNU’s Ultrapak battery pack can deliver a full charge to devices after just 15 minutes of charging itself up. This isn’t to say the technology is ready for smartphone integration, due to various reasons; however, we’re seeing smartphones adopting rapid charging technologies today (such as Oppo’s Find 7) and we should expect that smartphones will have a much shorter charge time thanks to various rapid-charging standards, such as Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0. Several smartphone models have adopted this standard, including Xiaomi’s Mi3, Mi4, Samsung Galaxy S5 and hTC One M8.

Smartphone Camera

Last but certainly not least, I think smartphone cameras will certainly undergo many improvements by 2020. In fact, the smartphone camera performance is one of the features driving smartphone sales. A safe and simple prediction is that camera’s pixel density would continue to increase as CMOS sensor technology advances. Today, Microsoft’s Lumia 1020 has 41 megapixels, yet I don’t see an average consumer needing that many pixels even by 2020. Personally, I would be very happy with a camera that offers 15-20 megapixel — good photographers understand that pixel isn’t the only determining factor for a good camera, as it is only one of the key aspects.

I am not expecting the camera in a smartphone is capable of optical zooming. Instead, I’d much rather have a smartphone that’s light and portable. In fact, today’s smartphone cameras are pretty good by themselves, but there are always improvements can be made. I think the iPhone 5S cameras can be better with image stabilization, the Galaxy S4 camera can be better with faster start-up and better low-light sensitivity, and the hTC One M8 camera can be designed better with more pixels and improved dynamic contrasting.

Here is a my wishlist for a smartphone camera that I would carry around in 2020, and it’s perhaps not the “2020 Edition of Lumia 1020” camera:

  • 20 megapixel with Image Stabilization, perhaps a wide, f/1.0 aperture
  • HDR, Panorama view
  • Excellent white balance and color accuracy
  • Excellent low-light sensitivity
  • Full manual control
  • Extremely short start-up latency, and fast and accurate auto-focus
  • 4K video recording @ 120fps (with simultaneous image recording)

I may not be a fortune teller, but there you go… that’s my prediction for what a smartphone will look like in the year 2020. Would you be interested in spending your hard-earned dough in 2020 for a smartphone with the above spec? Everyone has an opinion on what the future entails, and my idea of a smartphone five years from now are as good as those of the readers of this blog. I think we would all agree that the advancements in technology will continue to improve the quality of lives. As smartphones become more personal and depend ended upon, we’ll all reap the benefits from the smartphone evolution.


Does your smartphone’s touchscreen support moisture touch?

Recently, I met an Atmel maXTouch customer whose smartphone brand is well recognized by consumers in West and East Africa, competing against smartphones made by global brands like Samsung and Nokia. When the customer selected our touchscreen controller for their smartphone product, they needed two features that were very important for African consumers: robust moisture performance and strong noise immunity. This is hardly a surprise as many African countries have unreliable power supplies, and surge protection is important for electronic devices; additionally, the warm climates in most African countries make robust moisture performance a basic requirement for touchscreen controllers to handle sweaty fingers, palms and faces. When the touchscreen controller has trouble in combating charger noise or moisture presence on the touchscreen, a symptom called “ghost touch” would occur – in other words, when the touchscreen automatically triggers a false touch without the presence of a finger contact at that specific location.


With Adaptive Sensing technology, Atmel’s maXTouch T-series scans the touchscreen of a smartphone using both mutual-capacitance and self-capacitance sensing.


Mutual-capacitance enables true multi-finger touch operations, such as multi-finger gestures and rotations used in gaming apps. However, self-capacitance sensing is much less sensitive to the presence of moisture or water droplets than mutual-capacitance. Atmel’s Adaptive Sensing technology combines the analog signals of both self-capacitance and mutual-capacitance, allowing the embedded maXTouch microcontroller to intelligently determine moisture presence through obvious differences in both measurement deltas for corresponding touch locations. As seen in the example below, here a maXTouch device combines both set of signals to eliminate false touch (a.k.a. ghost touch) typically associated with the presence of moisture on a touchscreen.

Self Cap Measurement - TouchI should point out that a smartphone with an excellent water-resistant rating does NOT necessarily mean that it has a robust moisture performance for its touchscreen. Here is a tidbit of consumer feedback on a premium smartphone with IP58 rating:


In comparison, the OEM customer designs smartphones for African consumers that can offer excellent touch performance with the presence of moisture, thanks to our maXTouch T-series. The maXTouch mXT640T series of touchscreen controllers dynamically switches into a Self-Capacitance based single-touch mode when touches are detected in the presence of significant water. This meaning, the normal touch functionality of a mXT640T touchscreen will be maintained for as long as possible before eventually switching to a single touch operation to maintain reliable operation and prevent false touch conditions. The picture below illustrates how we set the bar for superior water/moisture performance in the market:


All in all, a touchscreen powered by Atmel’s maXTouch T-series controllers can support true multi-finger operations with the presence of moisture. Even in a rainy condition where water falls down to your smartphone, the system dynamically maintains reliable touch operations and prevents false touches, so that when you press a speed-dial for Uber in the rain, your phone will not innocently call your ex-girlfriend instead.