Tag Archives: touchscreens

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.


Making music with the MaKey MaKey Monome

In an attempt to create a complex musical instrument with inexpensive parts and a simple process, Maker JDeboi has developed one rockin’ device: the MaKey MaKey Monome!


The Makey Makey, as you likely know, is a printed circuit complete with an ATMega32u4 MCU that runs an Arduino Leonardo bootloader. The MaKey MaKey has been on the scene since Jay Silver successfully funded the project back in 2012, attaining nearly $570,000 in Kickstarter pledges. (For those interested, the original goal had only been $25,000.)

Now, JDeboi has utilized this platform to create a futuristic instrument that looks like it was transported back from the year 2114!

Using Makey Makey as its brains, JDeboi implemented a partnership of copper tape, NeoPixels, and cardboard to bring this monome to life. First using the NeoPixels and cardboard, she established an LED lattice that would serve as the base of the project. The Maker recommends using three different colored wires for GND, 5V, and data. “Check the label on each NeoPixel to make sure you’re always soldering the right wire to the right pad,” she advises.

Once the base was conceived, JDeboi began to affix her copper strips that would act as the touchscreen inputs. The MaKey MaKey kit translates those individual ‘touchscreens’ into sounds using Jenna’s Processing Sketch music software, which assigns a different note to each touch-square, thereby creating beautiful music with the added bonus of a light show. Once the circuits were linked, and the device was powered, she had the ability to make music with just the touch of a fingertip!

JDeboi also shares that due to the compatibility of her design, the MaKey MaKey platform can be swapped out for an Atmel based Arduino if other functionality was desired. For a full rundown on how our Maker created this dazzling design, feel free to head over to her Instructables post here.

Tortoises master touchscreen tech

Touchscreens have now even ventured into the world of land-dwelling reptiles. In a recent study, red-footed tortoises not only mastered the technology in exchange for strawberries, but the animals also transferred their knowledge to a real-life setting. Originally published in the July issue of the Journal of Behavioural Processes by researchers out of the University of Lincoln in England, the study set out to explore how well a tortoise could learn a spatial task when the response required was a simple touchscreen stimulus.


The tortoises, which are native to Central and South America, don’t have a hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning, memory and spatial navigation, researcher Anna Wilkinson explained. Instead, red-footed tortoises may rely on an area of the brain called the medial cortex, an area associated with complex cognitive behavior and decision-making in people. To understand how tortoises learn, the researchers tested how the reptiles relied on cues to get around, Live Science reported.

Wilkinson and researchers at the University of Vienna gave the tortoises treats when the reptiles looked at, approached and then pecked on the screen. From the looks of the video, these four red-footed tortoises learned how to use touchscreens rather quickly. The new findings will now assist researchers compare the perceptual and cognitive abilities of tortoises to other animals that can perform similar tasks. The experiment also reinforces other findings that tortoises are indeed intelligent creatures.

Watch the Live Science video below.

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.


A look inside Xiaomi Mi4…

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi recently debuted its latest flagship smartphone, the Mi4. According to a teardown by the folks at GizmoChinathe newly-unveiled device is powered by Atmel’s maXTouch mXT641T controller.


In terms of specs, the Mi4 comfortably holds its own with other competing devices, boasting a 5-inch full-HD screen, a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 901 processor, 3GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, 16GB or 64GB of internal memory and runs on a 3080 mAh battery. For the first-time ever, the company has also chosen to add a touch of metal — SAE 304 stainless steel — to the phone’s frame, along with a slightly curved plastic back cover. The device will also run Xiaomi’s custom MIUI operating system.


After recently reaching 26.1 million smartphones in the first half of 2014, Xiaomi continues to build momentum throughout the industry with an expansion outside of Greater China into Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and India.

As far as pricing is concerned, the Mi4 will be available for approximately USD $322 for the entry-level 16GB model, while the 64GB version will cost around USD $403. Though the 3G versions are slated to go on sale as early as July 29th (China Unicom), those seeking the 4G version will have to wait until September. Xiaomi hasn’t said when the phone will be available outside of China, however.


According to Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun, the Mi4 will be “the fastest smartphone in the world.” Additional key Mi4 smartphone features include:

o   Gloved touch and moisture immunity
o   2.63mm slim edge
o   Patented palm-rejection feature on edge

This isn’t the first time Xiaomi has embedded Atmel into its touch devices. Back in October, the smartphone maker selected the XT540S controller to power the 5-inch touchscreen of the Mi3.

To get an up close and personal look inside the Mi4, you’ll find the entire teardown here.

Interested in learning more about our maXTouch technology? You can check out Atmel’s maXTouch portfolio.

And the Bend Your Mind XSense Design Contest winners are…

Back in December 2013, Atmel kicked off its global Bend Your Mind XSense Design Contest, where 
participants ranging from students to fashionistas were encouraged to stretch their imagination by submitting drawings unique designs utilizing Atmel’s flexible XSense touch sensor. Four winners — two first place and two second place — were ultimately selected by Atmel judges, based on originality, creativity and uniqueness of the designs, with winners receiving cash rewards.

Contest winners included:

  • Technical Grand Prize Winner: Joseph Malkom, NewGen
  • Technical Runner Up:  Andi Hidayatullah, Wrist Curved Tablet 
  • Creative Grand Prize Winner: Raghu Vamsi, Touchscreen ID Card 
  • Creative Runner Up: Arun Magesh, Rollable Laptops

“The devices and technological use cases seen in the ‘Bend Your Mind XSense Design Contest’ is yet a glimpse into the innovation and creativity that we see in today’s market,” explained Sander Arts, Atmel’s VP of Marketing. “Atmel congratulates all of the contestants and is thrilled to see such imaginative uses for XSense technology. With XSense’s flexibility and high-performance capabilities, the future of innovation is bright when creative minds have the technology to turn vision into reality.”

Joseph Malkom 

“Using the XSense touch sensor, this design can be used in the medical world. I got this inspiration after my grandmother had a small needle stuck in her foot and the doctor used three different xrays wrapped around her leg in order to pinpoint the exact location of the needle in her foot. However, by using this screen, doctors can have a 3D view of bones, veins and nerves, and can pinpoint exact locations of injuries. Moreover, by being able to change the view from bones to veins and nerves, they can prevent creating serious injuries, like accidentally cutting into a major vein. By using fiduciary markers, physicians can pinpoint the exact location of an object even if the patient changes their position. As there is a metal stand at the bottom supporting the flexible screen, the PCB can reside inside there.”


Andi Hidayatullah

“The idea of this design is to make a “wrist curved tablet” using combination of XSense and flexible OLED display as a curved touchscreen… It can be used by people in their jobs or activities while it’s not necessary to stop what they are doing or unable to take care the device.”


Raghu Vamsi 

“My idea is to provide some additional features to an ID card.”


Atmel XSense is a revolutionary, highly flexible film-based touch sensor that enables a new generation of smartphones and tablets, and extends touch capabilities into a wide array of new consumer and industrial products. Optimal for a broad range of touchscreen products, XSense enables thinner, lighter and faster touch products. XSense creates flawless touch performance, enhanced noise immunity, low sheet resistance and low-power consumption allowing designers to turn unique touch-based concepts into functional designs at lower total system costs compared to current market alternatives.

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s XSense? You can check out our Bits & Pieces article archive on the subject here.

What factors do you consider when selecting a device?

What factors do you consider when making a purchasing decision for your next smartphone, tablet or PC? It’s quite likely that every individual goes through their own unique selection criteria, ranging from price of the device to functionality. However, what are the true deciding factors, and why?


Smartphones are different than tablets and PCs in that they are almost always under a contract and tied to a carrier. On top of this, it is common that OEMs only release certain versions of the smartphone in specific territories or countries. With phones you have to factor in which carrier you prefer, where you have the best phone reception, which is offering the best deals, etc. There is less weight on the hardware and software itself, and more on outside influences of location and carriers. For this reason, I’m not going to focus on smartphones.

Tablets / PCs
Since tablets and PCs are not necessarily tied to a carrier, there is weight put into the hardware and software of the product offerings rather than other criteria. Hence, why we will focus on this particular category. So, what are these most important factors?

Is this a work PC or a fun device to store music on and play with friends? Pricing / value will shake-out of this. You need high processing capability for work, there is premium associated with the best processors. If you are going to be doing a lot of gaming, then processing power is again important, but so are graphics. What your primary use case is for the device will largely influence your purchasing criteria and therefore your willingness to spend.

It seems people are either Apple fanatics or not. If you are, you tend to buy all Apple products, claiming that the simplicity, elegance and ease-of-use are the reasons for your obsession, and therefore you pay the premium for these products. Apple is an amazing company with amazing products and has (at least had) the ability to revolutionize any industry it sought to. If you are not an Apple person, brand loyalty is likely less important on the pareto of purchasing criteria. Another factor here, do you have full authority to make your own selection, or is this a work device paid for by your company? Many companies have IT departments that will only support certain machines.

No matter who we are everyone wants to feel like they are getting a good value associated with every purchase. This is as much a psychological topic as a hardware one. The story of a person sitting at in an air-conditioned home vs. a person crawling through a dessert, who do you think values a bottle of water more? Same idea, the traveler sitting on a plane for 12-hours with no movies playing vs. a person sitting in front of their TV, who do you think values a tablet more? The person whom is provided a PC for their work, vs. someone whom has to purchase one on their own? This criterion melds with the previous criterion in functionality.

Operating System (OS)
Let’s focus on PCs and tablets separately for this discussion. In terms of PCs, you primarily are on Windows or iOS — iOS if you are using Apple, and every other PC OEM is mostly running Windows. This is starting to fragment some with the introduction of Google Chrome, Linux, and many others, but the lion’s share in PCs is still between iOS and Windows.

For tablets, it’s a bit more skewed. Again, Apple iPad users are on iOS, but Android still has the largest overall OS share (smartphone / tablet / PC) with 48% (1.2B devices in 2014). With it being an open-sourced OS it invites all the OEMs to utilize it very easy. From a user’s perspective it has become very familiar and easy to use. Windows with their introduction of Win8 in October 2012 has been slowly gaining market share.

But when it is all said and done, do the users really care about which OS? Or, is the OS more connected to the functionality — in other words, when a user makes a purchase for a work PC, it just comes with Windows?

Form Factor
How heavy is the device? What screen size does it have? Is it a convertible, 2-in-1, or rotating screen device? The form factor again will be most influenced by the user’s primary use-case. If you are getting a computer for work, but you have to travel a lot, you definitely aren’t going to get a desktop. And on-top of that, you will want the lightest possible device you can get so you don’t have to lug around a heavy brick everywhere, but yet that still meets your processing needs. Depending on your supplementary use-cases, you might be inclined to get a 2-in-1 in that situation. Form factor is definitely a consideration, but tied to use case.

Being able to go to the app store and download the latest and greatest apps that everyone is talking about is a big deal. Apps are what make our devices more functional and important today than ever before. But different OSs have different quantities and qualities of apps available. Apple is leading this charge, then Android, and lastly Windows. Almost all developers were at least starting with iOS, apps first version available usually on iOS, followed by Android.

Catchy, fun, relative, and helpful advertisements are always good, but it should make less implication on decision criteria other than communicating the information associated with the previously discussed decision pareto.

Intended functionality / use case is likely the most important criteria, even including brand seems to fall out of this. This is definitely a topic that has far more breadth!

Atmel’s maXTouch T hits next-gen smartphone and phablet markets

Atmel has expanded its popular maXTouch T lineup of touchscreen controllers with the mXT640T, mXT336T and mXT224T. The new devices offer a comprehensive set of features, supporting next-gen mobile devices such as smartphones, phablets and mid-size tablets with touchscreens ranging from 3.2”-8.3.”


Key touch features include 1mm passive stylus and maXStylus (active stylus), hover capability, moisture immunity and multi-finger glove support.

“Essentially, these devices build on Atmel’s success of its single-chip maXTouch T series products for large-screen applications – mXT2952T and mXT1664T – which were launched in the second quarter,” an Atmel engineering rep explained.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the T series deftly incorporates Atmel’s Adaptive Sensing technology to enable dynamic touch classification – automatically and intelligently switching between self- and mutual-capacitance sensing. This provides users with a seamless transition between a finger touch, hover, passive/active stylus or glove touch. Meaning, users no longer have to manually enable “glove mode” in the operating system to differentiate between hover and glove.

Adaptive Sensing also helps significantly reduces the power consumption of a device, thereby extending battery life. Meanwhile, the analog front-end is equipped with advanced and flexible settings to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) prior to digital processing – eliminating signal distortions induced by water and noisy chargers.

“The new T Series enables superior touch performance with single-layer sensors as compared to the most recently announced solutions. Simply put, the latest devices will enable Atmel to extend its industry leadership in the large-screen market to the smartphone and phablet spaces,” said the engineering rep. “In fact, we are already working with a range of ITO and LCD manufacturers to support various stack-ups such as OGS, G1, GF and On-Cell which are targeted for production early next year. Plus, Atmel has begun sampling the new T Series devices with a number of OEMs who have provided positive feedback about the new touch products and their performance.”

Designing the future of touch with Atmel

Atmel CEO Steve Laub probably put it best when he told the Wall Street Transcript that touch is generally considered to be the preferred method for current-gen consumers to interface and interact with electronic devices.

“For the last three years, [Atmel has] been the world’s leading provider of mobile touch solutions, so our technology and products are changing the way people use and interact with electronic [devices],” Mr. Laub explained. “Our technology is also changing how they view the world and the ability to interact with the world.”

Indeed, Atmel has achieved a number of impressive milestones in the touch space over the last 6 months including:

XSense: A high-performance, highly flexible touch sensor which allows engineers to design devices with curved surfaces and even add functionality along product edges. Atmel is now positioned to ramp volume production for this revolutionary new tech.

Facilitating an uber-thin wireless touch interface: Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) developed an uber-thin wireless touch interface. The flexible interface, measuring less than 0.5 mm thick, turns any area into a touch surface for mobile devices and even desktops. To create the ultra-thin wireless touch surface, CSR partnered with Atmel and Conductive Inkjet Technology (CIT). More specifically, the device uses Atmel’s touch silicon tech to sense multiple contact points on a surface – and is therefore capable of offering a full touch surface or power optimized key detection.

Expanding the maXTouch auto lineup: In July, Atmel rolled out a new maXTouch family to facilitate single-layer shieldless designs in automotive center stacks, navigation systems, radio interfaces and rear seat entertainment platforms. The mXT336S is optimized for 7-inch touchscreens, while the mXT224S targets smaller touchscreens and tablets.

Powering the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini’s touchscreen: Samsung selected Atmel’s maXTouch mXT336S controller to power the touchscreen of its Galaxy S4 Mini.

Powering Samsung’s Galaxy S4: The Galaxy S4 is fitted with Atmel’s sensor hub management MCU (microcontroller unit) which collects and processes data from all connected sensors in real-time, optimizing multiple user experiences, such as gaming, navigation and virtual reality. In addition, the sensor hub MCU lowers the overall system power consumption via picoPower technology to prevent drain and enable longer battery life.

Driving Asus touchscreens: Asus selected Atmel’s mXT2952T and mXT1664T controllers to drive the touchscreens of multiple new tablets and Ultrabooks – including the Zenbook Infinity which is based on Intel’s Haswell processor.

Enabling ‘in-cell’ touch for custom LCD designs: AndersDX introduced In-Cell Touch technology custom liquid crystal display (LCD) installations targeted at low- to high-volume consumer manufacturing. Instead of a touch sensor bonded onto the LCD display, each In-Cell touch key is embedded directly into the LCD cell. The LCD ITO pattern is then designed to match individual touch key symbols. An Atmel Q Touch sensor IC integrated into the display electronics controls up to four touch keys per application.

Outdoors with Ocular: Atmel’s maXTouch S trekked to the great outdoors with Ocular LCD’s PCAP touch panels. Designed specifically for outdoor and marine applications, these Crystal Touch panels are non-birefringent and immune to false touches caused by water spray and droplets.